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Aspirin - What You Should Know

Aspirin Was the Primary Treatment for Arthritis Years Ago

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Updated November 09, 2012

Aspirin is a commonly used over-the-counter pain reliever and fever reducer. Knowing how to use aspirin safely decreases the chance for undesirable side effects. Here are 10 things you should know about aspirin.

1 - Aspirin is used to treat fever, pain, and inflammation.

Aspirin can also be prescribed to treat symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus and other rheumatic conditions.

2 - Aspirin is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) and further classified as a salicylate.

There are three categories of NSAIDs: salicylates, traditional NSAIDs, and COX-2 selective NSAIDs.

3 - There are different formulations available for aspirin. Acetylsalicylic acid is the generic name of aspirin and there are many other brand names.

Aspirin is available as an extended-release tablet, meaning, the medication is released slowly over time. Aspirin is also available as a regular tablet, enteric-coated tablet, delayed-release tablet (i.e., medication is released some time after it is taken), chewable tablet, gum, and suppositories. Aspirin also can be an ingredient in a combination drug. For example, percodan contains aspirin and oxycodone.

Children's chewable tablets contain 81 mg of aspirin. Aspirin tablets and caplets come in 325 mg or 500 mg strength. The enteric-coated aspirin caplets and tablets are also available in 325 mg and 500 mg strength. Also, it's easy to find aspirin tablets and caplets of 81 mg doses, because this is the dose most cardiologists recommend for patients with coronary artery disease.

4 - Aspirin should be taken according to the directions on the package or exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

Non-prescription, over-the-counter aspirin is usually taken every 4 to 6 hours as needed to treat pain or fever. To ensure the safe and effective use of aspirin, arthritis patients must follow their doctor's orders precisely. Beyond dosage instructions, follow these suggestions for safe use of aspirin:

  • Extended-release tablets should be swallowed whole and taken with a full glass of water. Breaking, crushing, or chewing the tablets is strongly discouraged since it would interfere with the extended-release aspect.
  • Aspirin tablets should be swallowed with a full glass of water.
  • Chewable aspirin tablets can be chewed, crushed, or taken whole. Drinking a full glass of water after taking the tablets is recommended.

5 - Before giving aspirin to a child or teenager, ask your doctor.

Some children or teenagers may develop Reye's syndrome after taking aspirin, especially if they have a virus, chicken pox, or influenza. Reye's syndrome is a serious condition. With Reye's syndrome, fat builds up on the brain, liver and other organs of the body.

6 - Most patients who take aspirin have few or no side effects. Serious side effects are possible, however.

It is recommended that patients take the lowest effective dose of aspirin in order to minimize side effects. Possible side effects associated with aspirin include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • heartburn
  • abdominal burning
  • gastritis
  • serious gastrointestinal bleeding
  • liver toxicity
  • stomach ulcers and bleeding without abdominal pain
  • ringing in the ears (usually is dose dependent)
  • rash
  • kidney problems
  • dizziness or lightheadedness

7 - Discuss all medications you take with your doctor in order to prevent drug interactions.

If you take any of the following medications and take aspirin too, discuss it with your doctor. You may need a dose adjustment or to be monitored more closely for side effects. Tell your doctor if you take:

  • Diamox for glaucoma or seizures
  • Dilantin (anti-seizure drug)
  • Depakote (seizures, migraines, bipolar)
  • ACE inhibitors including: Lotensin, Capoten, Vasotec, Monopril, Prinivil, Zestril, Univasc, Aceon, Accupril, Altace, and Mavik
  • Blood thinners including: Coumadin, heparin
  • Beta blockers including: Tenormin, Normodyne, Lopressor, Toprol XL, Corgard, Inderal
  • Diuretics (water pills)
  • Medications for diabetes
  • Medications for arthritis or gout

8 - Tell your doctor if you ever had asthma, problems with a frequently stuffy or runny nose or nasal polyps.

If you have or had any of the above-mentioned conditions, there is a risk you may have an allergic reaction to aspirin. Your doctor may suggest an alternative.

9 - If you drink three or more alcoholic drinks each day, ask your doctor if you can take aspirin or other pain medications.

For the same reason, discuss existing heartburn, stomach pain, a history of ulcers, anemia, or bleeding with your doctor. The goal in discussing these matters with your doctor before taking aspirin is to avoid future kidney problems, liver toxicity, and bleeding problems caused by adding aspirin into the mix.

10 - Aspirin should be avoided during pregnancy and in mothers who are breastfeeding.

If you become pregnant while taking aspirin, discuss it with your doctor. If aspirin is taken during the last few months of pregnancy, it can harm the fetus and possibly cause problems during delivery.

Sources:

Aspirin. MedlinePlus. 01/01/2007.
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/medmaster/a682878.html

Arthritis Drugs and More, an A to Z Guide. Published by Arthritis Foundation. 2004.

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