The United States Preventive Services Task Force's draft recommendation follows a growing scientific consensus that low doses may be beneficial to some high-risk women and their offspring. Low-dose aspirin reduced the risk of pre-eclampsia by 24 percent in clinical trials, according to a systematic review underpinning the new recommendation, which was published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
Low-dose aspirin also reduced the risk of premature birth by 14 percent and of intrauterine growth restriction — a condition in which the fetus doesn't grow as fast as expected — by 20 percent.
"For every four women who would have gotten pre-eclampsia, one case is prevented," said Dr. Ira M. Bernstein, the chair of department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Vermont. "The ability to prevent a quarter of disease is substantial."
Pre-eclampsia is a condition usually occurring in the second half of pregnancy and characterized by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, liver disease and blood-clotting abnormalities.
It is a leading complication for expectant mothers and their infants, affecting roughly 4 percent of pregnancies nationwide. The only "cure" is delivery. When a pregnant women develops pre-eclampsia in the second trimester, her infant often must be delivered prematurely to avoid severe maternal complications, like stroke.
The task force recommended that women at high risk for pre-eclampsia take 81 milligrams of low-dose aspirin daily after 12 weeks of gestation. High-risk women include those who have had pre-eclampsia in a prior pregnancy, especially those who have had to deliver preterm; women carrying multiple fetuses; and women who had diabetes or high blood pressure at conception.
But the task force also advised that expectant women with multiple moderate-risk factors "may also benefit from low-dose aspirin." These risks include obesity, a family history of pre-eclampsia, women older than 35, and African-American women.
Image: Pregnant woman taking pill, via Shutterstock