Aspirin Is Not Safe For Everyone
Aspirin is not Safe for Everyone
For many years now, men have taken low-dose aspirin
to prevent heart attacks, and the logical assumption
was that women would likewise reduce heart attack risk
by practicing this simple preventive measure.
But not so fast... men and women are not biologically identical.
As it turns out, Women's Health Study researchers found
that aspirin did not reduce heart attack risk in women,
and actually increased their risk for gastric bleeding.
The Silver Lining -- Reduced Stroke Risk
The good news from the study is that low-dose aspirin
can help prevent first strokes in women.
According to Charles H. Hennekens, MD, DrPH, an epidemiologist at
Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami
School of Medicine, this is no minor consideration.
Dr. Hennekens, who designed the Women's Health Study
when he was at Harvard, points out that each year,
approximately 40,000 more women than men suffer a stroke.
Another significant benefit: If you're a woman
age 65 or older, aspirin can significantly reduce the
risk for both stroke and heart attack.
About the Study
In the study, Dr. Hennekens and his colleagues randomly
assigned 39,876 apparently healthy women age 45 and
older to take a 100-mg aspirin or a placebo every other day.
(In comparison, baby aspirin contains 81 mg, while an
average tablet is 325 mg.) Over the next decade, they
monitored the women for heart attack, stroke and other
major cardiovascular events.
After 10 years, researchers found that...
Women who took low-dose aspirin experienced a 17%
lower risk for stroke, and a 24% lower risk for stroke
due to blood clots (the most common type).
Low-dose aspirin did not have any demonstrable effect
on preventing first heart attack or cardiovascular
death in women younger than 65.
Women over 65 were 30% less apt to experience a stroke
caused by a blood clot, and 34% less likely to have a
Gastrointestinal bleeding that required a blood
transfusion occurred in 127 women taking aspirin,
in contrast with 91 women taking a placebo.
Gastric bleeding has been a known side effect of
regular aspirin use for many years -- even low-dose aspirin.
Aspirin's benefits were most apparent in women who
did not smoke or had quit smoking, while hormone
therapy had no effect one way or the other.
These findings were reported in the March 31, 2005,
issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Ninety
percent of the financing for the study came from the
National Institutes of Health (NIH), and 10% from
Bayer AG, the manufacturer of Bayer Aspirin.
What You Should Do
Because aspirin is a drug and all drugs have side effects,
Dr. Hennekens emphasizes that no one should start taking
aspirin on a regular basis without consulting a
health-care professional who can help determine
whether the risk of disease exceeds the risk of
If you choose to take aspirin as a
preventative measure, make sure you are tested for
occult blood in the stool with a hemoccult test at
the doctor's office regularly. And don't forget the
importance of therapeutic lifestyle changes, such as
a better diet, regular exercise and no smoking...
these are often more effective than any pill.