Health News Review

(Brian Williams:) There’s health news tonight having to do with aspirin. For years doctors and many TV commercials have been advising people to take one a day for a healthier heart. But it hasn’t always been clear if women get the same heart benefit as men. Tonight, finally, there is more evidence and here with that, NBC Chief Science Correspondent, Robert Bazell. … (Bazell) The conclusion: in women, aspirin reduces the rate of stroke blood clots in the brain, the most common type, by 24% but had little effect on heart attack risk. In men, the daily aspirin cuts heart attack risk by 32 percent but had little effect on stroke risk.

Our Review Summary

This piece presents relative benefits of aspirin for men and women without providing similar context of the risks from daily aspirin use. And the piece provides no absolute figures – only relative. So, for example, it says that “in women, aspirin reduces the rate of stroke blood clots in the brain, the most common type, by 24 percent….in men the daily aspirin cuts heart attack risk by 32 percent.” But 24 percent of what? And 32 percent of what? The journal article upon which the story is based did state the absolute values for both benefits and risks. Those absolute values show that, over about a six and half year period, daily aspirin is predicted to result in 2 fewer strokes and 2.5 more major bleeds per 1000 women; and 8 fewer heart attacks and 3 more major bleeds per 1000 men. To many viewers, those numbers will mean more than 32% or 24%. This meta-analysis of retrospective studies did find that aspirin had different beneficial cardiovascular effects for men and women, and aspirin use was associated with significant bleeding risk for both men and women. When reporting on therapeutic claims, journalists should present the chances for benefit and for harm, and it should be presented in absolute terms, not just in relative terms.


Criteria

Satisfactory

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

Cost said to be ‘cheap’ but no actual figure of cost was provided.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Presented relative risk reductions only; the study upon which the story is based provided calculation of absolute risk reduction, but the story didn’t use it.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Harms of treatment mentioned without providing estimate for size of that increased risk.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

No mention was made that the study reported on was a meta-analysis, retrospective research by definition. What was the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

Quickie consumer soundbite saying that taking a daily aspirin was an insurance policy. The only expert quoted was first author of the study.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

No mention was made of other means to reduce cardiovascular risk.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

States that treatment is readily available. Neglects to mention that it is an over-the-counter medication, but most folks know this.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

This is not a novel treatment. Article points out that aspirin has been in use clinically for 200 years.

Total Score: 4 of 9 Satisfactory


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