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Study Says Aspirin Has A Gender Gap

It is a medical mystery that doctors find more and more intriguing: how drugs can have different effects on men and women. And the latest evidence indicates that aspirin may be a startling example.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports that a new study shows aspirin does a better job of protecting women from strokes than from heart disease. And it works altogether differently for men.

The latest research tracked 95,000 healthy patients with no prior heart problems. For women, an aspirin a day reduced the risk of stroke by 17 percent, with no effect on heart attack.

But for men, the benefits were reversed. A daily dose of aspirin cut the risk of heart attack by 32 percent, but had no effect on strokes.

Dr. Nieca Goldberg specializes in cardiac care for women at Lenox Hill Hospital and hopes this data will trigger similar studies in the future.

"I think that this is clearly the time that we need to look at other medications for gender related differences," said Goldberg.

Aspirin is not alone in this area. Several other drugs have shown signs of reacting differently in women, including some anti-depressants, painkillers and even anesthesia.

No one knows for sure why these differences exist because there have not been enough studies to pinpoint the causes. But doctors have theorized that women's smaller size and higher body fat could be factors. Also, women tend to take more drugs than men, such as birth control.

For patients, the news is more food for thought. Ruth Oakes has been taking an aspirin a day to prevent heart disease for the past six years and is contemplating this latest twist.

"I think it's interesting that we discover more and more men and women are different in our responses to medication," said Oakes. "It does not surprise me about aspirin."

Goldberg agrees and says much remains to be explored in the area of gender specific medicine.

"We don't even know if maybe women should be on lower dosages of medicines compared to men," she said.