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Baby Aspirin May Prevent Deadly Pregnancy Problem: Task Force

Low-dose baby aspirin may cut the risk of preeclampsia, a potentially deadly problem in pregnancy, for high-risk women, a top health task force says.
Image: A pregnant woman
Pregnant women at high risk for preeclampsia, a potentially deadly pregnancy complication, should talk to their doctors about taking baby aspirin, which has been show to cut the risk.Katie Collins / Press Association Images via AP file

Women at high risk for preeclampsia, a potentially deadly complication of pregnancy, should start taking low-dose aspirin in their second trimester to reduce the risk, according to a draft recommendation by a prominent U.S. health task force.

Beginning daily doses of 81 milligrams of aspirin after 12 weeks of pregnancy may reduce the risk of preeclampsia by 24 percent, according to a new review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released Monday.

That single pill of so-called baby aspirin may also lower the risk of premature birth by 14 percent and cut by 20 percent the risk of intrauterine growth restriction or IUGR, a condition in which a baby grows slower than expected in the mother’s womb.

All told, the therapy that’s already offered by some doctors should be widely adopted to help prevent the disorder that can’t be predicted and accounts for 12 percent of deaths of mothers during pregnancy and 15 percent of all preterm births of babies, said the USPSTF.

That was based on a review of 23 studies published between 1986 and 2014, according the report led by Jillian T. Henderson, a research associate for the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research.

“It’s one of the leading causes of maternal mortality,” said Henderson, whose review appears Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. “Although they’re very rare, some of the outcomes are quite catastrophic.”

Preeclampsia is a condition characterized by high blood pressure and sudden protein in the urine that typically develops in the second half of pregnancy. It affects about 3.8 percent of U.S. births, or about 152,000 a year, a recent study found. But that number has been rising steadily, particularly cases of severe preeclampsia, which jumped more than 300 percent in the U.S. between 1980 and 2010.

The only cure for the problem is delivery, which can endanger a baby early in pregnancy.

The recommendation was welcomed by Eleni Tsigas, executive director of the Preeclampsia Foundation. Tsigas lost a daughter in 1998 to the condition and developed severe preeclampsia with a son during her second pregnancy. A third pregnancy was normal. “We support women talking to their caregivers about low-dose aspirin,” Tsigas said.

Women at high risk for preeclampsia include those with a previous history of the problem, women with diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity and those with immune disorders or who are pregnant with more than one baby.

But Tsigas says one of the trickiest things about the condition is that doctors can’t predict it.

“There are two messages: First, women really do need to control the things they can control to have a healthy pregnancy,” Tsigas said. “The flip side is, even if you are healthy, you are not off the hook. All women are at risk for preeclampsia.”

USPSTF will accept public comments on the draft recommendation from April 8 to May 5.