In brief: Should you be taking aspirin? It depends.

In brief

Should you be taking aspirin? It depends.

For years, the jury has been out about whether low-dose aspirin gives women the same kind of cardiovascular protection as it does men. In March 2005, a verdict came in but was mixed. Nothing is simple in medicine, not even a little old aspirin.

Results from the Women's Health Study led by Harvard researchers showed that women under age 65 who took a 100-milligram (mg) dose of aspirin every other day did not lower their chances of a having a first-ever heart attack. Moreover, the aspirin routine was associated with a fairly substantial risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. But there are two major wrinkles to consider: First, although it didn't help with heart attacks, the low-dose regimen did lower (by 17%) first-ever stroke risk. And second, among the women in the study who were 65 and over, it lowered first-ever stroke and heart attack risk.

As the headlines at the time noted, the main finding is just the opposite of what has been seen with middle-aged men. Starting at about age 50, low-dose aspirin seems to protect men against first-ever heart attacks, but may slightly increase stroke risk.

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