Skip to content

Heart Disease Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Safe Pain Relief With Aspirin Therapy

On aspirin therapy? Aspirin can interact with other drugs, causing side effects. Know your risks.
By
WebMD Feature

Aspirin has earned its fame as a pain relief wonder drug. It eases headaches, lowers fevers, and reduces swelling. What's more, studies show that daily doses as low as 81 milligrams -- the amount in a baby aspirin -- can reduce the odds of heart attacks and strokes in people who are at risk. About 25 million Americans take aspirin for heart disease protection every day.

But there's a catch. Like any other drug, aspirin has dangers. When taken regularly, it can cause bleeding of the stomach and intestine -- especially in sensitive people. It can also interact with over-the-counter painkillers, causing unwanted side effects. Yet many people don't know this. Some take aspirin as casually as they pop a daily multivitamin.

Recommended Related to Heart Disease

Understanding Aneurysm: Diagnosis and Treatment

An aneurysm is an enlarged portion of a blood vessel. It is important to diagnose an aneurysm, because aneurysms may become larger over time, resulting in an increased risk of rupture, which can be dangerous. To diagnose an aneurysm, your doctor will first ask you many questions including whether another member of your family has had an aneurysm. Then, he or she will perform a complete exam, including listening to your heart, checking your blood pressure, listening to the arteries in your neck, and...

Read the Understanding Aneurysm: Diagnosis and Treatment article > >

"People have this skewed impression that over-the-counter medicines are harmless," says Curtis Barr, PharmD, associate professor of pharmacy practice at the Creighton University School of Pharmacy and Health Professions in Omaha, Neb.

That goes double for daily aspirin. "People think, 'It's just baby aspirin after all,'" says Byron Cryer, MD, a spokesman for the American Gastroenterological Association. "'So how bad could it be?'"

Yet it's a potent drug, and every year low-dose aspirin helps send tens of thousands to the hospital with bleeding.

So you must never start daily aspirin without your doctor's OK. If you have been prescribed daily aspirin, you need to know your risks -- before you next reach for a bottle of pain reliever.

Aspirin: The Pros and Cons

While aspirin may be best known as a painkiller, it also works as a blood thinner. Heart attacks and most strokes are caused by blood clots in the heart or brain. Aspirin decreases the blood's natural tendency to clot, allowing it to flow more easily -- reducing the risks of these complications.

But there's the problem. For the same reason that aspirin helps prevent strokes and heart attacks -- reducing the blood's tendency to clot -- it also raises the risk of bleeding elsewhere in the body. Bleeding that can be caused by the reduced ability of blood to clot.

Aspirin also has a special impact on the gastrointestinal tract. It blocks the effects of certain hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. These chemicals protect the stomach and gastrointestinal tract from damage. Aspirin can strip away this protection. Natural acids and enzymes in the stomach, which help digest food, can then injure the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. This can result in ulcers and bleeding. Whether the aspirin is buffered or coated makes no difference. And because aspirin also prevents clotting, the bleeding is worse than normal.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Today on WebMD

x-ray of human heart
A visual guide.
atrial fibrillation
Symptoms and causes.
 
heart rate graph
10 things to never do.
heart rate
Get the facts.
 
empty football helmet
Article
red wine
Video
 
eating blueberries
Article
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Slideshow
 
Inside A Heart Attack
SLIDESHOW
Omega 3 Sources
SLIDESHOW
 
Salt Shockers
SLIDESHOW
lowering blood pressure
SLIDESHOW