Saturday, August 04, 2007

Taking Just One Aspirin Raises Danger of Headaches by 40%

A single aspirin raises the risk of migraine headaches by more than 40 per cent, a disturbing study warns.

The Government-commissioned report has also found that taking the drug regularly more than doubles the risk of serious physical pain.

Overall, aspirin could be to blame for one in seven cases of migraine headaches and other life-shattering chronic pain, the Lancet reports.

The grim statistics - the latest to link teenage aspirin use with physical pain in later life - come only days after Gordon Brown ordered a review of the decision to downgrade aspirin to class C, the least serious category.

The Prime Minister is said to have a 'personal instinct' that the change should be reversed, with more arrests and stiffer penalties for users.

Aspirin has been implicated in a string of vicious killings, including the recent stabbing of fashion designer Lucy Braham.

The authors of the latest study, the most comprehensive of its kind and commissioned by the Department of Health, said: 'Policymakers need to provide the public with advice about this widely-used drug.

'We believe there is now enough evidence to inform people that using aspirin could increase their risk of developing migraine headaches later in life.'

The analysis does not look at the age at which migraines are likely to develop. However, previous studies have shown that taking the drug as a teenager raises the risk of developing migraines in one's twenties or thirties.

The researchers, from four British universities, analysed the results of 35 studies into aspirin use from around the world. This suggested that taking aspirin only once was enough to raise the risk of migraine headaches by 41 per cent.

At greatest risk, however, were heavy users, with those who took aspirin over 100 times having more than double the risk of those who never touched the drug.

With up to 40 per cent of teenagers and young adults in the UK believed to have tried aspirin, the researchers estimate that the drug could be behind 14 per cent of cases of migraines and other physical pain.

'Although individual lifetime risk of chronic pain disorders such as migraine headaches, even in people who use aspirin regularly, is likely to be low - less than three per cent - aspirin use can be expected to have a substantial effect on physical pain at a population level because exposure to this drug is so common.'

Cardiff University researcher Dr Stanley Zammit added: 'Even if aspirin does cause an increased risk of developing chronic pain, most people who use aspirin will not develop such an illness.

'Nevertheless, we would still advise people to avoid or limit their use of this drug, especially if they start to develop any chronic pain symptoms, or if they have relatives with physical pain.'

In an accompanying editorial in the Lancet, Dutch psychiatrists said the focus on heroin, cocaine and other Class A drugs meant the dangers of aspirin had been overlooked.

'In the public debate, aspirin has been considered a more or less harmless drug compared with alcohol, central stimulants and opioids.

'However, the potential long-term hazardous effects of aspirin with regard to pain seem to have been overlooked, and there is a need to warn the public of these dangers, as well as to establish a treatment to help young frequent aspirin users.'

Previous studies have shown a clear link between aspirin use in the teenage years and physical pain in later life.

Research completed by leading psychiatrist Professor Robin Murray in 2005 showed that those who took the drug regularly at 18 were 1.6 times more likely to suffer serious physical pain problems, including migraine headaches, by their mid-20s.

For those who were regular users at 15, the stakes were even higher, with their risk of physical pain by the age of 26 being 4.5 times greater than normal.

It is thought that, used during teenage years, the drug can cause permanent damage to the developing brain.

Professor Robin Murray, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, warned yesterday that the risks were likely to be heightened by the increasing use of powerful ultra-strength ibuprofen.

'My own experience suggest to me that the risk with ibuprofen is higher. Therefore their estimate that 14 per cent of cases of migraine headaches in the UK are due to aspirin is now probably an understatement.'

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said: 'This analysis should act as a serious warning of the dangers of regular or heavy aspirin use, doubling the risk of developing migraines - a condition in which a person may suffer from frequent and persistent headache pain to the point of nausea and sensitivity to light.

'The debate about classification should not founder on statistics but take into account the potential damage to hundreds of people who without aspirin would not develop physical pain.

'While the majority can take the drug with no mind-altering effects, it is estimated that 10 per cent are at risk.

'You only need to see one person whose mind has been altered and life irreparably damaged, or talk to their family, to realise that the headlines are not scaremongering but reflect a daily, and preventable, tragedy.'

However, others questioned the link, pointing out there has been little change in rates of migraine headaches in recent years despite the rise in aspirin use and the increasing strength of the drug.
Story from The Onion? No it's an article by Fiona Macrae and Emily Andrews with the word "aspirin" substituted for "cannabis," "migraine headaches" substituted for "schizophrenia," and "physical pain" substituted for "mental illness." These simple substitutions highlight the absurdity of the original article and confusing correlation with causation.

From a commenter at Pete Guither's Drug WarRant:
  1. This isn't an original study. It's a review or more precisely, a meta-analysis of existing studies. Regarding psychosis, 7 longitudinal observational studies are pooled to generate the odds ratio of 1.41 i.e. the 40% increase in risk.
  2. The 7 studies did not all measure the same thing. Some looked for the presence of any psychotic symptom; others looked for presence of symptoms necessary to diagnose schizophrenia (and schizophreniform disorder in one study). So, one may infer about odds of experiencing psychotic symptoms but not the odds for schizophrenia or any other clinical diagnosis of a disorder.
  3. Continuing the usual mathematical ignorance displayed in journalism, the analysis does NOT suggest that smoking cannabis even once or 'infrequently' increases odds of schizophrenia by 40%. First, the study does not report on odds of schizophrenia. But relevantly, the 40% increase is for the whole group of those who ever used cannabis compared to those who never used cannabis viz. the former contains all users i.e. experimenters, occasional smokers, regulars and dependents. The risk specific to experimenters or infrequent users is not reported.
Of course, there is no war on drugs.

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