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Aspirin – what do we know about the benefits of this cheap but effective drug in stroke prevention?

Aspirin – wonder drug?

Aspirin is in most of our household medicine cabinets as a stand-by for pain relief but is it some kind of wonder drug?

That may be a difficult question to answer but recent research, published in the Lancet in May 2016 by Professor Peter Rothwell and his team suggests that it may offer even more value than previously thought in helping to prevent the often life-changing effects of major stroke.

Aspirin and stroke prevention

The statistics, which were produced after analysing 15 studies, previously carried out, showed such a beneficial impact that the researchers suggested that its benefits should form part of Public Health Education.

Some of this knowledge is not new. Back in 2008, when NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) published guidelines for stroke management, use of aspirin in acute stroke units became standard treatment once Intra Cranial Haemorrhage (ICT – stroke related to a bleed) had been ruled out.

Early Use of Aspirin

The new research particularly focused on how useful aspirin could be in the early period after the onset of symptoms of stroke or TIA (Transient Ischaemic Attack). It was already known that both predispose to a higher risk of another more serious stroke event in the following days.

Although the research builds on old data, it makes it clearer than before that it really is useful to have aspirin as a first line of treatment.

The report’s authors said:

Our findings confirm that medical treatment substantially reduces the risk of early recurrent stroke after TIA and minor stroke and identify aspirin as the key intervention.’

Help for Developing Countries

The application of this recommendation to take aspirin as soon as possible after a minor event may be most relevant where access to medical care is limited e.g. in a rural area where it is difficult to reach a doctor or in parts of the world where there is no immediate access to advanced medical care.

While some caution is expressed about the possibility that patients may delay seeking medical treatment because they think aspirin has ‘done the trick’ with careful thought, this cheap but effective remedy has the potential to help diminish the frequently life changing effects of major stroke and associated disability.

The potential savings, both economically and in terms of human cost are significant for a drug that costs pennies.

Wonder Drug?

Back to the question of whether it is a wonder drug, last year trials were launched supported by Cancer Research UK to see if aspirin was of use in preventing the recurrence of bowel, breast, prostate, stomach and oesophageal cancers treated in the early stages. Separately a team at the Francis Crick Institute published research last year suggesting that aspirin could prevent tumours from hiding from the immune system and be useful in the treatment of cancer.

Watch this space as there may be more benefits than previously imagined to a very old drug.