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Aspirin has its place, but use with care

Gerald W. Deas M.D., MPH | 2/13/2014, 11:14 a.m.
Dr. Gerald Deas

Aspirin is a miracle drug. It is so arrogant, it wears a slogan on its white coat: “Take an aspirin a day and keep the doctor away.”

Many folks have doctored themselves with aspirin without the advice of their physician, hoping that symptoms will disappear. Aspirin is so available that you can buy it without a prescription at a drugstore, supermarket or bodega. Folks use aspirin to reduce pains in joints, get rid of headaches and bring down a fever. Aspirin is also used in a cream form to relieve joint pain and stiffness. Aspirin was the main drug in treating the symptoms of rheumatic fever, although this condition was caused by a streptococcal infection. I’m sure it also reduced the inflammation that affected the muscles and valves of the heart.

The Egyptians used an herb called willow, which also contained a chemical similar to aspirin. I’m sure it was needed by those who were building those marvels, the pyramids. In 1899, the chemist Felix Hoffmann, working with the German company Bayer, discovered a chemical compound known as salicylic acid, which is the main component of aspirin. The company began marketing this product as Bayer aspirin.

Aspirin has now been associated with preventing colon cancer by slowing down the production of cancer cells and thus reducing the size of the tumor. This wonderful drug is now being used to prevent heart attacks and strokes. It is, however, important to note that the risks of taking aspirin may at times outweigh its benefits. Excessive use can cause gastrointestinal bleeding as well as bleeding in the brain (stroke). It is therefore important to follow up periodically with your physician, especially if you are taking other medications such as Plavix, which may cause cardiovascular death.

It has been suggested by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that 75 milligrams of aspirin is as effective as 325 milligrams. The use of a low-dose aspirin in healthy women ages 55-79 may reduce the risk of a first stroke. In men ages 45-79, 75 milligrams of aspirin may reduce the risk of the first heart attack. It is suggested that folks over the age of 80 should not take aspirin on a regular basis due to gastrointestinal bleeding.

Aspirin has its place in preventing and treating serious illnesses. However, it must be used with caution and under the care of your physician.