Aspirin is an ingredient in numerous over-the-counter, combination and prescription medications used to relieve pain, inflammation and fever. Classified as a type of salicylate, this medication works by decreasing substances in the body that lead to these types of common discomforts. When used as directed, aspirin may be a safe and effective method of relieving everyday discomforts. At the same time, this medication is not for everyone, and it may even cause severe side effects. Talk to your doctor about all of the potential risks associated with aspirin before use.
Uses for Aspirin
Over-the-counter brands of aspirin are used to relieve fever as well as pain and inflammation related to arthritis, headaches, toothaches, muscle aches and menstruation. These types of aspirin brands may also help relieve symptoms of the common cold and flu. Over-the-counter versions are primarily used for mild to moderate symptoms. Some medications are combination drugs that may contain caffeine, acetaminophen, or citric acid. Examples include Excedrin and Alka-Seltzer.
Prescription strength aspirin is used for more severe pain and inflammation. Your doctor may prescribe this type of medication to help relieve rheumatologic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. You should not take prescription-strength aspirin at the same time as an over-the-counter version.
Aspirin is also used to aid in the cardiovascular health of some patients. The medication may help treat cardiovascular disease, as well as potentially prevent heart attack or stroke. Do not take aspirin for such functions unless ordered by a doctor. When given the go-ahead, your doctor will choose either an over-the-counter form of aspirin or a prescription version, depending on your specific needs and risk factors. A medical professional may also recommend an aspirin regimen if you are at a high risk for cardiovascular disease, or if you are a diabetic over the age of 50.
Risks & Side Effects
Aspirin is one of the oldest pain relievers available. However, this doesn’t mean that the medication is completely free of side effects. Some patients experience allergic reactions, as well as other potentially fatal symptoms. Call 911 if you experience any related symptoms such as:
- Face and body swelling
- Wheezing or breathing difficulties
- Hearing difficulties
- Vomiting (especially if there is blood, or a coffee ground-like appearance)
- Irregular heartbeat
- Hives or red rash
- Black or bloody stools
- Confusion or seizures
This medication may also cause less serious side effects, such as abdominal pain, headache, nausea with occasional vomiting and excess fatigue. While such symptoms may subside, you should still exercise on the side of caution and report unusual effects to your doctor right away. A physician may alter your aspirin dose or recommend an entirely different treatment plan altogether.
Do not stop taking aspirin without your doctor’s consent, especially if you take the medicine for cardiovascular disease treatment or prevention. According to the Mayo Clinic, a sudden stop in an aspirin regimen may lead to serious health consequences. The most prominent potential risks include blood clots and heart attack.
Extra precautions should be utilized when giving aspirin to children. The medicine may cause Reye’s syndrome if a child takes aspirin with the flu. This potentially deadly condition is marked by severe liver and brain damage.
Aspirin my cause drug interactions with other medications or supplements you may take. Examples include ibuprofen, acetaminophen, SSRIs and heart medications, as well as supplements for vitamin B12, vitamin C and vitamin D. Make a list of all your current medications to discuss with your doctor, and notify him or her of any changes made. This will reduce your risk of symptoms related to drug interactions.
The recommended dosage for aspirin varies between brand types. Since over-the-counter versions treat mild to moderate symptoms, these types of aspirin do not contain as much of the active ingredient per dose. Bayer Healthcare’s brand-name prescription Aspirin, for example, contains 500 mg of the active ingredient in each tablet. However, the same company makes over-the-counter versions that contain as little as 81 mg, which still may be enough to treat mild pain. The 325 mg versions are available for more moderate pain, but you should ask a doctor before use.
Over-the-counter aspirin brands are taken once every four to six hours as pain persists, or as directed by a doctor. Prescription versions are generally recommended twice a day for as long as a medical professional instructs. It is best to take the lowest dose possible to see how your body responds, and to await further instructions from a physician before increasing the dose. In the case of cardiovascular health, a doctor may recommend a low-dose aspirin once a day. This medication may be taken with or without food.
Aspirin is one of the oldest pain relievers around, and it has been relied upon by many people since it rose to prominence at the turn of the 20th century. Since there are numerous versions available, it is even more important to let your doctor determine the best brand for you. Always follow instructions as outlined by a medical professional.