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Here's how easily Internet health advice can go off the rails and put patients at risk

Dead ends on the Superhighway

Search engines are great when you need a cheap hotel room or want to track down a pair of running shoes that was discontinued. But your health is another matter.

Still, people are using search engines like medical encyclopedias. Self-diagnosing and self-treating at an alarming rate.

In fact, some estimates say a full 75% of searches every day are people looking for health information.

Unfortunately, a lot of information is just plain wrong. And dangerous.

And there is almost nothing more dangerous than a widely accepted health “fact” that is really a colossal myth. And nothing turns a myth into a fact faster than the Internet.

Little benefit — plenty of risk

“Aspirin may be the ultimate wonder drug.”

Whenever you read an article that starts with an absurd sentence like that, brace yourself. It’s time to break out the heavy-duty baloney deflectors. Because it’s about to get deep.

A recent Yahoo Health article leads off with that “wonder drug” sentence. After that, there’s some pie-in-the sky business about how aspirin helps prevent heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. AND… “May even help stave off Alzheimer’s disease, researchers report.”

Well…no. That’s not REALLY what researchers report. Not even close.

In a new study, researchers gave memory tests to hundreds of older subjects with high risk of heart disease. Five years later, they gave the same tests. Subjects who took low-dose aspirin tended to score a bit higher than those who didn’t use the therapy.

Okay. Slightly better memory. That’s good. But even the Yahoo article admits… “There were no differences in dementia rates in the two groups.”

Does that sound like staving off Alzheimer’s disease to you? Hardly. But when aspirin cheerleaders start gushing praise, it’s hard for them to stop.

They also tend to ignore the hazards.

But the American Gastroenterological Association doesn’t flinch. The AGA estimates that adverse gastrointestinal events linked to long-term use of aspirin and other NSAIDs is responsible for well over 100,000 hospitalizations each year.

Worse, more than 15% of those patients die. It comes out to about 16,500 deaths per year.

And what most people don’t know is that bleeding risk doesn’t end in the gut. Bleeding in the brain causes a significant number of those deaths.

Back to the Yahoo article — who in their right mind would risk fatal brain bleeding for possible improvement of memory?

So, please — no more nonsense about aspirin preventing dementia. Or its “wonder drug” status. Daily use of any drug will have side effects and lead to greater dangers.

“Does low-dose acetylsalicylic acid prevent cognitive decline in women with high cardiovascular risk? A 5-year follow-up of a non-demented population-based cohort of Swedish elderly women” BMJ Open, Vol. 2, No. 5,

“Aspirin May Reduce Cognitive Decline” Lisa Collier Cool, Yahoo Health, 11/2/12,

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