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Why Aren't Women Taking Aspirin for Heart?

Less Than Half of Women With Heart Disease Use Daily Aspirin Therapy
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 18, 2005 -- More than half of women with heart disease don't take aspirin to help their hearts, a new study shows.

That disappoints researcher Jeffrey Berger, MD, chief resident at New York's Beth Israel Medical Center. "To find such low numbers was quite discouraging," he says in a news release.

The American Heart Association recommends aspirin as a prevention for people who have had or are at high risk of a heart attack, angina, or stroke.

The results of the study may be discouraging, but perhaps not totally unexpected. Last June, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that women at high risk for heart disease were less likely than men to take aspirin for heart disease by a margin of 46% to 59%.

In Berger's study, 46% of women with a known history of heart disease were taking low-dose aspirin for their hearts. The other women were missing out on one of the least costly, most available medicines for their hearts.

"Ideally, the percentage of women with a known history of [heart] disease who take aspirin should be above 90%," says Berger in the news release.

Disappointing Data

Berger and colleagues studied aspirin use among women with heart disease. Information came from the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study, which included nearly 100,000 postmenopausal women across America.

The researchers focused on almost 9,000 women with a history of heart disease, which included heart attack and stroke. They reported their findings in Orlando at the Second International Conference on Women, Heart Disease, and Stroke.

Participants included 1,364 women who had suffered a stroke. Only 43% of them were on aspirin therapy. The study also included 2,230 female heart attack survivors. A little more than half of those women (54%) were taking aspirin for their hearts.

Which Women Take Aspirin?

Women were more likely to take aspirin for heart disease if they were older, college educated, white, and lived in the Northeast. The likelihood dropped for women who used Medicaid insurance, were black, or lived in the South or West.

College-educated women with heart disease were nearly 40% more likely to take aspirin than those without a college education. Black women were 33% less likely to take aspirin. Heart-related aspirin use was 40% less likely among Medicaid patients, say the researchers.

Most women taking aspirin (70%) took 325 mg per day. The other 30% took a lower daily dose (75-81 mg). Studies have shown that the lower dose is equally effective and has fewer side effects, says Berger in the news release.

Talk to Your Doctor First

Women (and men) should consult their doctors before taking aspirin regularly. Health care providers can determine whether patients are good candidates for aspirin therapy and determine the right dose.

Besides, doctors need to know about any over-the-counter health products patients take --including vitamins and herbal products, as well as aspirin -- so they have the "big picture" of the person's medications.

Aspirin is inexpensive and widely available from drugstores to supermarkets, but some people are allergic to it or can't tolerate it for reasons such as bleeding problems or other side effects.

Still, less than 5% of women with heart disease might be ineligible for aspirin therapy, says Berger in the news release. He also encourages doctors to work to bridge the racial and socioeconomic gaps seen in the study.

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