Daily aspirin users 75 or older: Consider taking a stomach-protecting drug

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Roughly half of Americans ages 75 or older take a daily, low-dose aspirin to prevent a heart attack or stroke. New research suggests these people might benefit from taking a stomach-protecting drug to prevent a higher-than-expected risk of gastro-intestinal (GI) bleeding.

The study, published online June 13, 2017, by The Lancet, involved nearly 3,200 people who were prescribed aspirin because of a previous heart attack or stroke. Researchers followed them for up to 10 years to see how many were hospitalized for bleeding — a well-known side effect of aspirin use. Upper GI bleeding usually results from a stomach ulcer, which can cause anemia, heartburn, and abdominal pain.

The risk of serious GI bleeding was much higher among people ages 75 or older compared with people ages 65 or younger. But bleeding events were much less common in people taking prescription heartburn drugs called proton-pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole (Prilosec) and esomeprazole (Nexium). These drugs can reduce GI bleeding by as much as 90%, according to the study authors.