Low-dose aspirin has been shown to be effective in preventing about one-fifth of atherothrombotic vascular complications (non-fatal myocardial infarction, non-fatal stroke, or vascular death) in a meta-analysis of 16 secondary prevention trials in patients with previous myocardial infarction, stroke, or transient cerebral ischaemia. This corresponds to an absolute reduction of about 10-20 per 1000 patients in the yearly incidence of non-fatal events, and to a smaller, but still definite, reduction in vascular death. Against this benefit, the absolute increase in major extracranial bleeding complications [mostly, gastrointestinal (GI)] is 20- to 50-fold smaller, depending on age and sex. Hence, for secondary prevention, the benefits of antiplatelet therapy substantially exceed the risks. For primary prevention, the balance between vascular events avoided and major bleeds caused by aspirin is substantially uncertain because the risks without aspirin, and hence the absolute benefits of antiplatelet prophylaxis, are at least an order of magnitude lower than in secondary prevention. The aim of this article is to review the updated evidence for the efficacy and safety of low-dose aspirin in primary prevention and to discuss additional health benefits resulting from prolonged antiplatelet therapy in apparently healthy people at low average risk of vascular events.
Keywords: Aspirin; Chemoprevention of cancer; Major bleeding complications; Major vascular events; Primary prevention.