Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), is one of the most widely available, commonly used pain relievers for minor aches and pains, and to reduce fever. It is also an anti-inflammatory drug that can be used as a blood thinner.
Aspirin was the first non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), its use going back to 400BCE when people chewed willow tree bark – from which the chemical salicylate is derived – to relieve, fever, pain and inflammation. Salicylate is the active ingredient in aspirin, which is also found in myrtle.
According to WebMD, aspirin can be used to treat a wide range of health issues, such as:
- joint damage causing pain and loss of function
- unpredictable severe constricting chest pain
- joint inflammatory disease in children and young adults
- treatment to prevent a heart attack
- prevention for a blood clot going to the brain
- transient ischemic attack
- painful periods
- rheumatoid arthritis
- prevention of transient ischemic attack
- myocardial reinfarction prevention
- acute syndrome of the heart
- blood clot prevention following percutaneous coronary intervention
- acute thromboembolic stroke
- rheumatic fever
- inflammation of the heart with rheumatic fever
- Kawasaki disease
- inflammation of the lining of a joint
- inflammation of the sac surrounding the joint (bursitis)
- inflammation of the tendon
- inflammation of the covering of the tendon
- treatment to prevent a heart attack
- stroke prevention.
People with a high risk of blood clots, stroke and heart attack can use aspirin long-term in low doses.
It is also commonly used to treat mild to moderate pain, migraines, headaches, period pain, colds, flu, sprains, strains, fever and even arthritis.
However, aspirin does interact with a number of medicines, including those containing warfarin and methotrexate.
In high doses, it can help to relieve symptoms of rheumatic fever, rheumatic arthritis, inflammatory joint conditions and pericarditis.
In low doses (75–81mg per day), it can help to prevent blood clots; reduce the risk of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and unstable angina; prevent myocardial infarction, stroke and colorectal cancer.
Daily low-dose use can also help patients following coronary artery bypass graft operations, heart attacks, stroke, atrial fibrillation and acute coronary syndrome. It’s often recommended for people with high blood cholesterol levels, hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes and retina damage or retinopathy.
People who take low-dose aspirin daily are likely to continue for the rest of their lives.
While it is commonly prescribed and used, aspirin is not recommended for people with a known allergy to aspirin or NSAIDs, or to those who have a peptic ulcer, haemophilia or any other bleeding disorder, anyone at risk of gastrointestinal bleeding or haemorrhagic stroke. It is also not advisable for anyone who drinks alcohol regularly or who is undergoing any dental or surgical treatment.
Those with asthma, hypertension, liver or kidney problems or anyone who’s had a peptic ulcer in the past should not take aspirin, unless directed by their GP.
According to Medical News Today, aspirin also interacts with a number of medicines, including:
- anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as diclofenac, ibuprofen, indomethacin, and naproxen
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants, such as citalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, venlafaxine, and sertraline
In most of these cases, taking aspirin increases the risk of internal bleeding, except with methotrexate, where aspirin inhibits the body’s ability to eliminate methotrexate, which could lead to dangerous levels.
Common side effects of aspirin include stomach irritation, indigestion and nausea. Adverse effects include worsening symptoms of asthma, vomiting, stomach inflammation or bleeding, bruising and possibly haemorrhagic stroke.
While aspirin can treat a number of symptoms, there are plenty of risks and possible complications, so you should always speak with your doctor before taking any medication, no matter how mild.
Do you take aspirin? Were you aware that it could treat so many symptoms?