A Baby Aspirin a Day Keeps Preeclampsia Away

It's advice that's been around for almost a decade, but why is the information not getting out?

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Preeclampsia is a condition where women develop high blood pressure, have swelling in the legs and protein in the urine. It develops in one in 25 pregnant women in the United States and is a factor in 15% of all premature births. Almost a decade ago, doctors began recommending high-risk women take a regular baby aspirin to help prevent the condition, but a new study finds that information may not be getting out.

Preeclampsia can be deadly for a developing baby and dangerous for mom, too even years afterward.

“It's not something that ends with delivery, but has ongoing implications for cardiovascular health,” said Dr. Tamar Krishnamurti, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Women with high blood pressure or kidney disease before pregnancy may be at high risk for developing preeclampsia during pregnancy. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended women at high risk take one baby aspirin daily.

“Actually, if you take a low dose baby aspirin, you can decrease the risk of developing preeclampsia because that aspirin is an anticoagulant,” said Krishnamurti.

But is that information getting through? Researchers used data from a smartphone app called My Healthy Pregnancy to determine if pregnant women at high risk of preeclampsia were following recommendations.

“What we found, which was particularly interesting, was that about 37% of those patients who were prescribed aspirin, appropriately, were not aware that they were being prescribed aspirin,” Krishnamurti said. 

The study also found that of the pregnant women who knew they should take baby aspirin, only 49% followed their doctor’s advice. Krishnamurti and her colleagues said they’re not sure why there is a problem with adherence. Some women may hesitate to take any medication during pregnancy, and others confuse safe drugs like baby aspirin with drugs that are not safe for pregnancy like ibuprofen.

"But in a low enough dose, there is really no risk to the mother or fetus from taking it,” said Krishnamurti.

Researchers say a digital platform like My Healthy Pregnancy could help flag patients with preeclampsia risk factors and could prompt more detailed conversations between doctors and women at risk about the benefits of taking low-dose aspirin.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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