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Aspirin: Important Uses, Side Effects, and Precautions

aspirin usesNon- steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs are a class of medicines which have pain relieving (analgesic), anti- inflammatory and antipyretic (fever reducing) actions in different measures. Non- steroidal means that they are not steroids. Steroids often have some similar effects but also have unwanted side effects. Morphine and opioids are also pain relieving drugs. But in contrast to morphine and opioids, they do not produce physical dependence and have no abuse liability. These medicines are effective particularly in inflammatory pain. Examples of this group of medicines are Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Diclofenac, Aceclofenac, Paracetamol etc.

One of the oldest analgesic-anti-inflammatory drugs is aspirin and it is still used widely. The generic term for aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), aspirin is a trademark owned by Pharmaceutical company Bayer. Aspirin is an acetylsalicylic acid and salicylates can be found in plants such as willow trees and myrtle. It is rapidly converted in the body to salicylic acid which is responsible for most of the actions. Apart from various important aspirin uses, it also has many side effects. So, it is not recommended for longer periods. Let’s see various uses, side effects, precautions, interactions and overdose of this useful medicine.

Important Uses of Aspirin

Aspirin is a widely used medicine, it’s not just only used to relieve headache but also has several other uses. Other uses includes to relieve various types of pain, to reduce inflammation and fever, rheumatic fever, as blood thinner, in heart attacks etc. Let’s know about various uses of this useful medicine.

1. To Relieve Pain

It is one of the most commonly used medicine to treat mild to moderate pain such as headache, tooth pain, migrane etc. They are more effective against inflammation associated pain such as tooth pain or pain after tooth extraction. For mild to moderate pain, it is sufficient alone. Combination of it with other non- steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs and opioids is also used to treat moderate to severe pain. High doses of it is useful to reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, pericarditis, other inflammatory joint pain conditions etc. This medicine is not suitable in children due to many side effects of it. So, don’t use this medicine in children without doctor’s prescription.

2. To Reduce Fever

This medicine also has antipyretic effects (reduce fever) due to its action on prostaglandin system. It rapidly reduces fever by promoting heat loss such as sweating. But this medicine should not be used in children to treat fever, as it may lead to Reye’s syndrome (swelling in brain and liver damage) in children.

3. For Reducing Inflammation and Swelling

It has anti- inflammatory effects and is useful in both long term and acute inflammatory conditions. It also reduces signs of inflammation such as pain, swelling, tenderness etc. So, it is also useful to treat inflammatory conditions such as Rheumatoid arthritis.

4. To Reduce the Formation of Blood Clots or As Antithrombotic

Small doses of aspirin have antithrombotic effects and that is it reduces the formation of blood clots by reducing platelet aggregation. The bleeding time increases to nearly twice than normal. This effect lasts for about a week. Long term use of large doses of it, decreases formation of clotting factors in liver and increases the risk of bleeding. This effect of aspirin has both use and risk. It is used in low doses as blood thinner to prevent heart attacks, ischaemic strokes etc. The risk is of increased chances of bleeding after tooth extraction, trauma etc. So, people taking this medication should know all the effects of this medicine and prevent complications.

5. Closure of Ductus Arteriosus 

In the developing foetus (baby), Ductus Arteriosus is a connecting blood vessel and allows most of the blood to bypass the foetus’s non- functioning lungs. At the birth of baby, usually its closure occurs. If its closure does not occur after birth, and left uncorrected then may lead to pulmonary hypertension and possibly heart failure. In this case, non- steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs such as Indomethacin, Aspirin etc induce the closure of ductus arteriosus.

6. Post- Myocardial Infarction and Post- Stroke Patients

By inhibiting platelet aggregation, it lowers the chances of reinfarction and also lowers the incidence of strokes in these patients. So, doctors usually prescribe low dose aspirin in these patients.

7. Menstrual Pain

This medicine also relieves pain occurring during menstruation. By lowering prostaglandin levels in the body, it helps in relieving the pain. Due to its over the counter availability, people use it most commonly.

8. Osteoarthritis

This medicine gives relief in osteoarthritis, so one can use this medicine “as and when required” basis.

9. Other Less Well Established Uses of Aspirin

  • Pregnancy induced Hypertension
  • Prevention of Colon Cancer
  • Familial Colonic Polyposis

Side Effects of Aspirin

There are several side effects of this medicine. One must know about them and should avoid indiscriminate use of this medicine.

1. Nausea, Vomiting etc

Pain relieving doses of this medicine can cause nausea, vomiting etc. Anti- inflammatory dose of this medicine can cause dizziness, reversible impairment of hearing and vision, electrolyte imbalance etc.

2. Bleeding

It increases the chances of bleeding and persons having liver problems, stomach ulcers, alcoholics are more prone to this. So, consult your doctor if you see symptoms of bleeding such as black/tarry stools, vomiting that looks like coffee grounds, persistent stomach pain etc.

3. Stomach Ulcers

This medicine aggravates the stomach ulcers and increases the risk of bleeding in the same. So, one should avoid this medicine and can take alternative medicines.

4. Delay of Labour

It can cause delay in labour, so pregnant women should not take this medicine without doctor’s consultation.

5. Limitation of Blood Flow to the Kidneys

This medicine limits the blood flow to kidneys and increases problems in persons having congestive heart failure, kidney disease etc.

6. Aggravates Asthma

It can aggravate asthma and various allergic reactions in susceptible individuals.

7. Allergic Reactions

Although Allergic reactions are infrequent, but can be serious. Allergic reactions include rashes, rhinorrhoea, urticaria etc.

8. Reye’s Syndrome

Children and teenagers below 18 years of age should not take aspirin if they have any viral infections such as chicken pox, flu or any undiagnosed illness or if they have recently received any vaccine. In these cases, taking this medicine increases the risk of Reye’s syndrome (swelling in brain and liver damage), a rare but serious illness. If you see any changes in behavior with nausea and vomiting, consult your doctor. This may be an early sign of Reye’s syndrome. Due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, pediatric formulations of aspirin are prohibited in India and the UK.

Precautions

Apart from the various uses of this medicine, it also has side effects and interactions with other medicines. So, one should know the precautions to avoid problems associated with it. Also, consult your doctor before taking this medicine especially for longer times.

  1. This medicine has some allergic reactions in susceptible persons, so one should know if he/ she has allergy from this medicine. Consult your doctor regarding the allergy and don’t take if you are allergic to it.
  2. As this medicine may cause bleeding in the stomach and may aggravate the existing stomach ulcer conditions, persons with these problems should not take without doctor’s consultation. This can also increase the risk of bleeding manifestations in persons addicted to alcohol, tobacco etc.
  3. This medicine increases the bleeding tendencies in long term users, persons with bleeding disorders such as haemophilia, low platelet count, vitamin K deficiency should not take this medicine.
  4. Consult your doctor before taking this medicine, if you have these health problems- liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, frank Congestive heart failure, stomach problems (ulcers, heartburn, stomach pain etc), asthma, gout etc.
  5. Don’t take this medicine in pregnancy, as this may cause harm to the unborn baby and may also cause problems during pregnancy such increased blood loss during labour. Aspirin also passes into the breast milk, which is harmful for new born babies. So breast-feeding women also should not take this medicine.
  6. Don’t give this medicine to children and teenagers below 18 years of age, as it can cause Reye’s syndrome if they have viral infections or any undiagnosed illness.
  7. One should always tell the surgeon about all the medicine he/she is taking including this medicine before surgery because this medicine causes increased bleeding tendencies and also has interactions with other medicines.

Interactions of Aspirin

Aspirin has drug interactions with many medicines such as warfarin, phenytoin, methotrexate etc. It can cause toxicity of these medicines. Also, it increases the risk of bleeding in persons taking anticoagulants. So, consult your doctor if you are already taking the above mentioned medicines and take care of your health.

Aspirin Overdose

Overdose is most common in children. Symptoms of overdose includes- vomiting, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, bleeding, hallucinations, convulsions etc. Immediately consult your doctor, if you see these symptoms.

Aspirin is a non- steroidal anti- inflammatory drug, having pain relieving, inflammation and fever reducing actions mainly. Apart from this it also beneficial effects to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Along with these important actions, it has some side effects such as aggravating stomach problems, bleeding tendencies, asthma, Reye’s syndrome etc. So, don’t use this medicine indiscriminately and don’t give it to children. Consult your doctor for long term uses of this medicine and take care of your health.