Aspirin may be a lifesaver for some women, two new studies show.

One study shows that aspirin can significantly reduce death rates in postmenopausal women with heart disease.

The second study shows that aspirin can significantly lower the risk of stroke in women, although it appeared to have no protective effect in men.

Jeffrey Berger, MD, a cardiology fellow at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and researcher of both studies, says, “It was shown before and we have shown it again. Aspirin is a lifesaving therapy.”

Robert Eckel, MD, president of the American Heart Association and a cardiologist at the University of Colorado College of Medicine in Denver, agrees.

“These studies once again show that aspirin can have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system,” Eckel tells WebMD. Eckel was not involved with the research.

Both studies were presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association.

Aspirin Cuts Death Rates

The first study included almost 9,000 women with stable heart disease aged 50 to 79. Nearly half were taking aspirin. Thirty percent of those were taking 81 milligrams and 70 percent were taking 325 milligrams of aspirin per day.

During a six-and-a half year period, women taking aspirin were 17 percent less likely to die from any cause and 25 percent less likely to die from heart disease, compared with nonusers.

The findings may not apply to young women with heart disease since only postmenopausal women were studied, Berger says.

The next step, he says, is to find out the optimal dose of aspirin for women. Higher doses are associated with an increased risk of side effects, chiefly bleeding in the stomach.

“It appears that the smaller 81-milligram dose is as effective as 325 milligrams, but we need to confirm that,” Berger says.

In the meantime, postmenopausal women with cardiovascular disease should take aspirin as a preventive measure unless there is a medical reason not to, he says.

For the second study, Berger analyzed data from six different studies in which more than 95,000 people without coronary artery disease were randomly assigned to receive either low-dose aspirin or placebo. About 51,000 participants were women.

Among the women, the use of aspirin was associated with a 17 percent reduction in the risk of stroke.

Women who took aspirin were also 24 percent less likely to have ischemic strokes, the more common type of stroke, compared with nonusers.

Of note was that there was no significant increase in the risk of hemorrhagic stroke (the less common type of stroke) among the women taking aspirin. But men on aspirin faced a significant 69 percent increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Berger called for further studies to explore the gender gap.

By Charlene Laino, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2005, Dallas, Nov. 13-16, 2005. Jeffrey Berger, MD, Duke University, Durham, N.C. Robert Eckel, MD, president, American Heart Association; cardiologist, University of Colorado College of Medicine, Denver.