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Taking half an aspirin before bed can help pregnant women avoid pre-eclampsia, a study found.
High-risk women who took 150mg a day – half the full-dose tablet – were 82 per cent less likely to develop pre-eclampsia before 34 weeks, experts discovered.
It is the first ‘definitive proof' that aspirin can improve the chances of a healthy pregnancy.
The NHS advises pregnant women to take aspirin only after discussion with their doctor.
But the authors of the study, led by the University of Exeter and King's College London, last night called for the drug to be routinely given to those deemed at risk of developing the condition.
Pre-eclampsia is one of the biggest threats to pregnant women and unborn babies.
It is a leading cause of stillbirth and Britain's second biggest cause of maternal death.
It affects about 38,000 UK women each year, about 6 per cent of pregnancies. Severe cases develop in 1 to 2 per cent of pregnancies, and in extreme circumstances can lead to seizure, coma or death.
In the most serious cases the only way of treating the problem is to deliver the baby immediately to save the mother.
It can strike as early as 20 weeks, meaning the baby can be put at risk if delivered prematurely.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that women who took 150mg of aspirin from 11 to 14 weeks into pregnancy were 82 per cent less likely to develop preeclampsia before 34 weeks.
They also had a 62 per cent reduced risk of pre-eclampsia before 37 weeks.
The trial was conducted with 1,776 women who had a high risk of pre-term pre-eclampsia.
Half were given aspirin – thought to be more effective if taken at night – and half took a placebo.
Overall, pre-eclampsia occurred in 1.6 per cent of the aspirin group, compared to 4.3 per cent of the placebo group.
Pre-eclampsia is caused by reduced blood flow through the placenta, restricting the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the baby, which can restrict growth. Experts believe aspirin can counter this by reducing blood flow and stopping clotting.
Kypros Nicolaides, professor of fetal medicine at King's College London, said: ‘This extensive study is definitive proof that women can take simple measures in the first trimester of pregnancy to significantly reduce their chances of developing pre-term pre-eclampsia.'
Professor David Wright, of Exeter University, said he hoped the results will ‘alter clinical practice and improve pregnancy outcomes for mothers and their babies'.
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