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Heart Disease Health Center

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Safe Pain Relief With Aspirin Therapy

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

Aspirin: The Pros and Cons continued...

Unfortunately, even low doses of aspirin have this effect, says Cryer, who is also an associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. He worked on a study that tried to find a dose of aspirin that was low enough to avoid these side effects.

"We found that even just 10 milligrams -- which is too low to have any cardiovascular benefit -- posed the same risk of gastrointestinal damage as doses that were over 30 times higher," Cryer tells WebMD.

Compounding Aspirin's Risks

Aspirin is in a class of medicines called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs.) This includes pain relievers like:

While other NSAIDs do not have aspirin's cardiovascular benefits, they share the same risks. Aspirin and other NSAIDs can:

  • Raise the risk of certain strokes. While most strokes are caused by clots, some are caused by bleeding in the brain. Thinning the blood increases this risk.

  • Raise the risk of damage to the kidneys and liver. In general, kidney or liver damage is only a risk when using high doses of NSAIDs regularly. But people who already have kidney or liver disease should talk to their doctors before using them.

  • Trigger allergic reactions. Many people are allergic to NSAIDS. People with asthmaare especially at risk.

But the most common risk from NSAIDs is damage to the gastrointestinal tract. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, 103,000 people are hospitalized every year because of these side effects; 16,500 people die. And of all the people who are diagnosed with GI bleeding from an NSAID, a whopping 40% are taking low-dose aspirin, says Cryer.

What's worse, if you take aspirin and another NSAID regularly, you greatly increase the risk.

"Taking two NSAIDs -- like baby aspirin for heart protection and ibuprofen for pain relief -- increases your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding by nine times," says Cryer.

Safe Pain Relief When You're on Aspirin Therapy

So if you do take daily aspirin, what are your options the next time you pull a muscle or get a headache? Luckily, you don't have to grin and bear it.

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