What Is Aspirin and What Is It Used For?

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what is aspirin

Acetylsalicylic acid, better known as aspirin, is widely used to relieve minor aches and pains, reduce fevers, thin the blood and decrease inflammation. The many benefits of its ingredients have been known since at least 400 BCE when people chewed willow bark for the salicylate it contains.

Today, aspirin is one of the most widely used medications in the world, with both short-term and long-term applications for people over the age of 16. It is estimated that approximately 35,000 metric tons of aspirin are consumed each year.

All About Aspirin

Most people have heard of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). What many people don’t know is that aspirin was the world’s first NSAID. NSAIDs provide many of the benefits of steroids but without the unwanted side effects. Aspirin is also non-narcotic, meaning it doesn’t cause the dazed, near-unconscious state known as “stupor.”

Specific Uses of Aspirin

Some of the most common uses of aspirin include the treatment of conditions such as:

When pain is mild to moderate, aspirin is typically used alone. For more serious pain, it may be taken with other medications.

At a doctor’s direction, high doses of aspirin can be used to help reduce the symptoms of conditions like:

  • Pericarditis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Other joint inflammations
  • Rheumatic fever

Low-dose aspirin regimens (75-81 milligrams per day) can be prescribed by a doctor to prevent:

  • Blood clot formation and reduce the risk of unstable angina and transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Stroke (although it is not used to treat a stroke)
  • Myocardial infarction through reduced clot formation
  • Colorectal cancer

A doctor may also prescribe a low dose of aspirin following certain medical events including a heart attack, coronary artery bypass operation or atrial fibrillation, or if a person has certain heart attack or stroke risk factors such as hypertension or high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or a smoking habit.

Aspirin Precautions, Interactions and Side Effects

Some people should not take aspirin, including those who meet any of the following criteria:

  • Are under 16 years of age
  • Have a known aspirin allergy
  • Have a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia
  • Are allergic to other NSAIDs
  • Have a peptic ulcer
  • Have an elevated risk of hemorrhagic stroke or gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Consume alcohol regularly
  • Will soon be having even a minor dental or surgical treatment

People with certain other conditions should use aspirin with caution and only after consulting their physician. This includes uncontrolled hypertension, kidney or liver problems, prior peptic ulcer or asthma.

Aspirin may interact with certain medications and should not be used while taking those drugs. The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Warfarin (a blood thinner)
  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers
  • Methotrexate (used in treating cancer and autoimmune diseases)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (a type of antidepressant)

Common side effects of taking aspirin include:

  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Stomach or gut irritation

Less commonly, aspirin can cause:

  • Vomiting
  • Worsening asthma symptoms
  • Stomach inflammation or bleeding
  • Bruising

In rare cases, a hemorrhagic stroke can be a side effect of aspirin use.

It is important to note that aspirin should be used according to the directions on the bottle or as directed by a physician. You should always talk with your doctor before high-dose or long-term aspirin use.

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