Aspirin is a common medication used to relieve mild pain and fever. People also use it as an anti-inflammatory or blood thinner.
People can buy aspirin over the counter without a prescription. Everyday uses include relieving headaches, reducing swelling, and reducing fever.
When taken daily, aspirin can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke in people at high risk. Doctors may give aspirin immediately after a heart attack to prevent further blood clots and death of heart tissue.
This article provides an overview of aspirin, including its uses, risks, interactions, and possible side effects.
Aspirin contains salicylate, a compound found in plants such as willow and myrtle. Its use was first documented about 4,000 years ago.
Hippocrates used willow bark to relieve pain and fever, and some people still use willow bark as a natural remedy for headaches and minor aches.
NSAIDs are a class of drugs that have the following effects:
Reduce inflammation, in higher doses
These medications are not steroids. Steroids often have similar benefits to NSAIDs, but are not suitable for everyone and can have unwanted side effects.
As analgesics, NSAIDs are generally not narcotic. This means that they do not cause unconsciousness or dizziness.
Aspirin is a brand of the German pharmaceutical company Bayer. The generic term for aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid.
Aspirin has many uses, including relieving pain and swelling, treating various medical conditions, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in people at high risk.
Below we describe these uses in more detail.
Pain and swelling
Aspirin can relieve mild to moderate pain, swelling, or both, associated with many health problems, such as:
A cold or flu
Sprains and strains
Long-term illnesses such as arthritis and migraines
For severe pain, a doctor may recommend taking aspirin with another medication, such as an opioid pain reliever or another NSAID.
Prevention of cardiovascular events
Taking low-dose aspirin daily may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in some people, but it is not safe for everyone. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) trusted source recommends using aspirin in this way only under the supervision of a doctor.
For people at high risk of cardiovascular disease, low-dose aspirin may reduce the risk by preventing blood clots from forming.
A doctor may recommend low-dose daily aspirin for people who:
have heart or blood vessel disease have
signs of poor blood flow
to the brain have high blood cholesterol levels have
high blood pressure or hypertension
However, for people without these problems, the risks of long-term aspirin use may outweigh the benefits.
The 2016 United States Preventive Services Task Force recommendations state that adults ages 50-59 should take aspirin daily to prevent colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, these guidelines only apply to adults in the age group who:
have a 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease of at least 10%
are not at high risk of bleeding
have a life expectancy of at least 10 years
are willing to take a low dose daily for at least 10 years
for treatment of coronary events
Doctors may give aspirin immediately after a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event to prevent further clot formation and death of heart tissue.
Aspirin may also be part of a treatment plan for people who have recently had:
revascularization surgery, such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting
a mini-stroke or a transient ischemic attack
an ischemic stroke caused by a blood clot
Aspirin may also help treat pain and swelling associated with the following chronic conditions:
rheumatic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and other inflammatory joint diseases
systemic lupus erythematosus
inflammation around the heart known as pericarditis
Doctors may recommend low-dose aspirin to people:
with retinal damage, also called retinopathy,
who have suffered from diabetes for more than 10 years,
who are taking antihypertensive medication
with a risk of colon cancer
Doctors typically do not recommend aspirin to people under 18.
This is because it can increase the risk of a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome, which can occur after a viral infection such as a cold, flu or chickenpox. Reye syndrome can cause permanent brain damage or death.
However, a doctor may prescribe aspirin to a child under supervision if they have Kawasaki disease or to prevent blood clots from forming after heart surgery.
For children, doctors usually recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) in appropriate doses instead of aspririn.
People with the following medical conditions should be careful when taking aspirine and only do so if a doctor recommends it:
Bleeding disorders such as hemophilia
uncontrolled high blood pressure
stomach or gastric ulcers
liver or kidney disease
Under medical supervision, pregnant or breastfeeding people can take low-dose aspirine. Doctors typically advise against taking high-dose aspirin during pregnancy.
Anyone who has a known allergy to aspirin or other NSAIDs such as ibuprofen should avoid these medications.
Doctors do not give aspirin for a stroke because not all strokes are caused by blood clots. In some cases, aspirine can make a stroke worse.
Also, anyone who regularly drinks alcohol or is undergoing dental or surgical treatment, no matter how minor, should consult a doctor before taking aspirin.
An interaction may involve one drug making another less effective or the combination being dangerous.
Aspirine can interact with many medications. Some of these include:
Anti-inflammatory painkillers: Examples include diclofenac, ibuprofen and naproxen. When combined with aspirin, these medications can increase the risk of stomach bleeding.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and other antidepressants: Examples include citalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, venlafaxine and sertraline. When combined with aspirin, any of these drugs can increase the risk of bleeding.
Warfarin: When combined with this blood thinner, aspirin may reduce the drug’s anticoagulant effect and increase the risk of bleeding. However, there are situations where this combination can be beneficial.
Methotrexate: When combined with this drug, which is used to treat cancer and some autoimmune diseases, aspirin can make it difficult to eliminate the drug, potentially leading to toxic levels of methotrexate.
For a more complete list of drug interactions, contact the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
The most common side effects of aspirin are:
Stomach or intestinal
The following side effects occur less frequently:
Worsening asthma symptoms
Aspiriin can also cause very serious side effects, such as bleeding in the brain or stomach or kidney failure. A rare side effect of daily low-dose aspirin is hemorrhagic stroke.
Aspirine can help prevent and treat a number of health problems, but people under 18 should not take it without medical advice.
Aspirien is available over the counter or with a prescription. Always follow label directions or the advice of a healthcare professional. This is especially important for people who are more likely to experience side effects.
Aspiirin is not safe for everyone, especially when dosed daily. Other options for mild pain relief include other NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.