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Low-Dose Aspirin Risks May Outweigh Benefits For Some Women: Study

The findings of a new study suggest that the potential side effects of aspirin therapy may negate benefits of using it as a means of preventing heart disease and cancer in women under 65, raising questions about the frequent practice of recommending low-dose aspirin for women as they get older. 

In a report published on-line by the medical journal Heart on December, 4, researchers from The Netherlands and the U.S. indicate that while using low-doses of aspirin might help stave off some ailments, it may not be worth the risks, which can include gastrointestinal bleeding.

Low doses of aspirin are often prescribed to women as a means of preventing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and colorectal cancer. The study looked at whether women were really seeing actual benefits from taking aspirin every other day.

Researchers looked at long term follow-up data involving nearly 28,000 women who participated in the Women’s Health Study. The study included a clinical trial comparing the benefits and risks of 100 mg alternate-day aspirin therapy to women who were given a placebo.

The findings indicate that aspirin was associated with modest decreases in the risk of cancer and heart disease, but more women suffered gastrointestinal bleeding as a result. That risk of bleeding increased with age, but so did the benefits of taking aspirin.

Researchers concluded that the benefits only appeared to outweigh the risks once women were age 65 or older. For younger women, the risks were higher than the benefits.

“Concurrent evaluation of the absolute effects on cancer, CVD and major gastrointestinal bleeding showed that alternate-day use of low-dose aspirin is ineffective or harmful in the majority of women in primary prevention,” the researchers determined.

In an accompanying editorial, professor Marco M. Ferrario and Giovanni Veronesi of the Department of Clinical and Experimental medicine at the University of Insubria in Italy, wrote that there is presently no consensus among medical professionals on antiplatelet treatments in primary prevention. The editorial says the findings of the study support a conclusion made earlier this year by the FDA that the risk of stomach bleeding appears to be significantly more harmful in most women than aspirin’s power to prevent CVD or cancer.

A similar study published in December in PLOS One came to a similar conclusion, finding that aspirin use likely prevented the deaths of 33 to 46 people out of 10,000 over a 10-year period. In comparison, during that same time period, there were 46 to 49 major bleeding events and 68 to 117 gastrointestinal bleeding events among the same 10,000 people. Researchers found that the risk of stomach bleeding increased 37% and the risk of stroke increased 38%.

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