Aspirin: Women's Stroke-Preventer?

Aspirin is widely recognized for its protective benefits when it comes to heart disease, mainly due to its blood-thinning qualities, which can help prevent clogging of the arteries. Low-dose aspirin therapy is already widely prescribed to prevent heart attack or stroke in people who already have cardiovascular problems, and aspirin is recommended after calling 9-1-1 if a person thinks he or she is having a heart attack.

Now, says The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay, there is evidence aspirin can be helpful when it comes to avoiding strokes in women.

For the first time, research shows low-dose aspirin therapy can prevent a stroke in apparently healthy women. A study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine looked at forty thousand apparently healthy women 45 and older over a ten year period. The low dose of aspirin that was given was 100 hundred milligrams every other day.

Women 45 and older who took the aspirin showed a 17 percent reduction in the risk of a first stroke, and the benefit was even greater as women got older.

In fact, the study found that aspirin offered the greatest benefit in women over 65, also reducing heart attack by about a third for them.

The stroke prevention findings are especially important for women because, each year, about forty thousand more women than men suffer a stroke.

Senay cautions that aspirin is a powerful drug that can cause bleeding. The study did show some cases of bleeding, such as gastrointestinal bleeding. But for many, the benefit of reducing the risk of a stroke can outweigh these risks.

Some women take aspirin when they don't need it, and some don't take it when they do. The only way to know is to sit and determine your risk with your doctor, Senay says. It's important to consult with a physician, because there are additional factors that may determine whether or not you should be taking aspirin.

The factors that go into determining your ten-year risk of a heart attack are age, gender, smoking, cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

What can we do to prevent heart attacks and strokes? The most important measures we know of include not smoking, a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling high cholesterol and high blood pressure, Senay points out.