Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is nearly as old as civilization itself. Hippocrates, and even the ancient Egyptians used an early form of it (salicin, from the white willow tree) to treat pain and fever. Aspirin as a medicine to treat pain was developed by the Bayer company in the 1800s. More recently, aspirin has become a therapy for preventing cardiovascular disease and stroke, but using it in this way should be done according to your doctor’s recommendations.
Class and Category
Categorized as an analgesic, aspirin is an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, or NSAID. NSAIDs are used to relieve pain and inflammation. In some products aspirin is the sole ingredient; in others, it is produced in a combination of two or more substances.
How Aspirin Works
Aspirin treats pain, fever and inflammation. It can be used for muscle pain, arthritis, minor injuries, and other conditions. Aspirin can be found in tablets and capsules, as well as in gum form and suppositories. The tablets may be plain aspirin, enteric-coated, extended release, buffered or chewable. If you take extended release or enteric-coated tablets, take them whole – do not crush or chew.
While side effects associated with aspirin are generally rare, they can occur.
After you swallow an aspirin, its active ingredient is released in your stomach. Recall that prostaglandins play a role in blot clotting as well as maintaining the stomach lining. When they are inhibited, there may be related problems in that area, for example bleeding in the GI tract. Side effects in the GI tract may also include irritation or ulcers. If you have a peptic ulcer, aspirin may cause a recurrence.One way you may be able to minimize or avoid the GI side effects of aspirin is to take an enteric-coated form. Another idea is to take your aspirin with food. Studies show, however, that buffered aspirin confers minimal, if any, protective effects to the GI tract.
Aspirin allergy also may occur in some individuals, which would take the form of hives, facial swelling, wheezing and/or shock. People with GI tract, liver or kidney problems, allergy to aspirin or other NSAIDS, should check with their doctor before taking aspirin. Aspirin sometimes causes ringing in the ears and/or partial deafness. If hearing problems occur after you take aspirin, call your doctor immediately.
Alcohol and aspirin are not a good mix. Taking alcohol with aspirin can increase the risk of stomach bleeding or otherwise affect how the drug works in your body. Ask your doctor or read the label carefully to find out the maximum number of drinks you can have between doses.
Aspirin and Children – a Special Warning
Don’t give your child or teenager aspirin to fight the symptoms of flu. Researchers have found that this causes a rare disease called Reye’s Syndrome, which has devastating and even lethal outcomes. Also, monitor your child to be sure they are not taking more than the recommended dose. Overdosing is particularly dangerous in children. One effective way to do this is to keep the aspirin bottle out of their reach. Another is to never give a child an adult version of aspirin.
Side effects in children requiring immediate medical attention include changes in behavior, drowsiness and/or fast or deep breathing.