Monday, March 15, 2010

I don’t want a stomach ulcer

When a doctor prescribes you tablets, you take them. You rarely stop to question whether it is the right thing to do or not.

When I was diagnosed with hypertension, I was prescribed Ixia Plus which is a common treatment for high blood pressure here in Spain. In my case it has been very effective and has reduced my pressure from 200 over 90 down to about 120 over 65 – a good result. Initially, there were side effects though; I started to get pains in my chest which felt to me like angina so I was referred to a specialist in Orihuela , a grumpy man who decided that the level of my cholesterol was the cause of my problem.

I was put on a low cholesterol diet, told to exercise more and prescribed Cardyl, a popular cholesterol reducing drug in Spain. I was also prescribed Adiro which turns out to be junior aspirin specially formulated to reduce the incidence of heart attacks. I recall that my father took an aspirin every day when he was older because he believed it would prevent a heart attack by thinning his blood.

It turns out that my father was wrong and was risking something far worse. New research from Edinburgh University reveals that healthy people who take the painkiller every day almost doubled the risk of internal bleeding, while there was no discernible impact on heart disease.

The study was conducted on 3,350 people whose blood-pressure tests indicated they had problems with arteries in their legs. Over eight years, 34 people who took a daily aspirin suffered haemorrhages requiring hospital treatment, compared with only 20 such cases among the placebo group. Even more worrying, 14 participants on aspirin developed a stomach ulcer, compared with eight who were taking the dummy pill.

Dr Andrew Green, a Yorkshire-based GP who also works with the charity Sense About Science helps to demystify the daily barrage of conflicting health information that we get. “The science part is that we know aspirin reduces people’s risk of heart disease in those who have previously had a heart attack,” he says. “For those people, the potential side effect of internal bleeding is a risk worth taking. But everyone else should steer clear — the risks outweigh the benefits.”

As it happens, more often than not, I forget to take the aspirin, it is supposed to be taken with a midday meal. If we eat out, then I forget it but even when we are at home it often slips my mind. I always remember to take my Ixia Plus first thing in the morning and 99% of the time a Cardyl tablet with my evening meal. It seems that, unwittingly, I may be doing the right thing.

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