Aspirin: Health benefits, uses, and risks

Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), is commonly used as a pain reliever for minor aches and pains and to reduce fever. It is also an anti-inflammatory drug and can be used as a blood thinner.

People with a high risk of blood clots, stroke, and heart attack can use aspirin long-term in low doses.

Aspirin contains salicylate, which derives from willow bark. Its use was first recorded around 400 BCE, in the time of Hippocrates, when people chewed willow bark to relieve inflammation and fever.

It is often given to patients immediately after a heart attack to prevent further clot formation and cardiac tissue death.

Fast facts on aspirin

Here are some key points about aspirin. More detail is in the main article.

Aspirin is one of the most widely used medications in the world.

It comes from salicylate, which can be found in plants such as willow trees and myrtle.

Aspirin was the first non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to be discovered.

It interacts with a number of other drugs, including warfarin and methotrexate.

What is aspirin?

aspirin
Aspirin has a range of uses,
including the treatment of pain and inflammation and reduction of blood clotting.

Aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).

NSAIDs are medications with the following effects:

Analgesic: Relieves pain without anesthesia or loss of consciousness

Antipyretic: Reduces a fever

Anti-inflammatory: Lowers inflammation when used in higher doses

Non-steroidal means they are not steroids. Steroids often have similar benefits, but they can have unwanted side effects.

As analgesics, NSAIDs tend to be non-narcotic. This means they do not cause insensibility or stupor. Aspirin was the first NSAID to be discovered.

Salicylate in the form of willow bark has been used for over 2,000 years. Some people still use willow bark as a more natural remedy for headaches and minor aches and pains.

Aspirin in its present form has been around for over 100 years. It is still one of the most widely used medications in the world. It is estimated that around 35,000 metric tons of aspirin is consumed annually.

Aspirin is a trademark owned by the German pharmaceutical company, Bayer. The generic term for aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid (ASA).

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Uses

Aspirin is one of the most commonly used drugs for treating mild to moderate pain, migraines, and fever.

Common uses include headaches, period pains, colds and flu, sprains and strains, and long-term conditions, such as arthritis.

For mild to moderate pain, it is used alone. For moderate to severe pain, it is often used along with other opioid analgesic and NSAIDs.

In high doses, it can treat or help reduce symptoms of:

rheumatic fever

rheumatic arthritis

other inflammatory joint conditions

pericarditis

In low doses, it is used:

to prevent blood clots from forming and reduce the risk of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and unstable angina

to prevent myocardial infarction in patients with cardiovascular disease by preventing clot formation

to prevent a stroke, but not to treat a stroke

to prevent colorectal cancer

Aspirin and children

Aspirin is not usually suitable for those aged under 16 years, because it can increase the risk of Reye’s syndrome, which can appear after a virus, such as a cold, flu, or chicken pox. It can lead to permanent brain injury or death.

However, a specialist may prescribe aspirin for a child under supervision if they have Kawasaki disease, and to prevent blood clots from forming after heart surgery.

Acetaminophen (paracetamol, Tylenol) and ibuprofen are generally used instead.

Low-dose aspirin

A low dose of aspirin, at 75-81 milligrams (mg) per day, can be used as an antiplatelet medication, to prevent blood clots from forming.

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