Aspirin is, no doubt, one of the most remarkable human pharmaceutical inventions. The drug, which humans have used in some form since at least 1500 BC, has become one of the most commonly used drugs in the world.
It is, of course, not surprising that Aspirin has such wide global use. It is an essential medicine for relieving various forms of pain, as well as reducing fever. In addition, a low dosage of Aspirin used daily was found to lower the risk of cardiovascular problems such as strokes and heart attacks. With such immense health benefits and popularity, many now gloss over the dangers of Aspirin and use it routinely.
It is, however, important to pay attention to these risks as they may result in severe and fatal outcomes in some cases. Thus, in this article, we will be addressing some of the risks and dangers of aspirin use and how they could be mitigated. Let’s dive right in:
What is Aspirin?
Aspirin is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that helps relieve pain by reducing substances in the body that generally cause pain, inflammation, and fever. NSAIDs such as Aspirin and Ibuprofen are typically used by doctors, as opposed to opioid pain relievers like morphine, to treat pain that is less severe.
Inflammation generally occurs when the body reacts to an infection or injury. When there is inflammation, however, the body receives pain signals from nerve receptors, causing us to
feel pain. Aspirin and other NSAIDs disrupt this process by minimizing the direct effect of inflammation on pain-nerve stimulation. In addition, the drug also decreases inflammation, helping relieve the pain.
Aspirin, specifically, contains a property called salicylate. This is a compound found in certain plants, such as the willow tree. This is the active ingredient in Aspirin that allows it to relieve pain. Interestingly, the willow tree has been used to manage pain since around 4,000 years ago and is still used by some people today. Hippocrates is said to have used the willow tree plant to relieve fever and manage pain during childbirth.
Notably, the name ‘Aspirin’ is a trademark owned by a German pharmaceutical company known as Bayer. However, the name has become a generic term used to describe Acetylsalicylic acid.
Overall, there is no gainsaying the fact that Aspirin is a beneficial drug with many uses. However, taking Aspirin also comes with some risks, particularly when used daily, as is the case with many Americans.
Risks of using Aspirin daily
Aspirin is commonly used for less severe pain that occurs with fevers and headaches. However, over time, the use of Aspirin was expanded beyond these conditions. This was majorly a result of research that showed that using Aspirin on a daily basis may be an effective way to prevent cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. Aspirin reduces this risk by preventing blood clots from forming.
In fact, the 2016 recommendations from the United States Preventive Services Task Force stated that adults between the ages of 50 and 59 may take Aspirin daily to prevent cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer. It is worth noting that these recommendations could have restricted use to people who have a risk of cardiovascular disease, don’t have a high risk of bleeding, and are willing to take a daily dose for at least 10 years.
While this guidance reflected the medical stance on Aspirin at the time, that has changed quite a lot since 2016. In the following years, research has accumulated to show that the potential risks of taking Aspirin daily far outweigh whatever health benefits can be derived. As such, the United States Preventive Services Task Force has updated its recommendations in 2022, taking into account the new known risks of daily aspirin use.
The risks of daily aspirin use are particularly higher for people who have no known heart disease or stroke. In such cases, using daily Aspirin is not recommended. The risk of such use ironically stems from the effect of Aspirin that enables it to prevent cardiovascular events. Aspirin thins the blood and prevents clots from forming. And while this might help with reducing the risk of a heart attack, it can also lead to bleeding in the intestines, stomach, and brain.
A person who has had no cardiovascular event, therefore, risks potentially severe bleeding if
they use Aspirin daily. Similarly, those with an underlying risk of internal bleeding may experience more harm than good by using Aspirin daily.
Considerations for seniors
Given that seniors generally have a higher risk of experiencing cardiovascular events, it is understandable that this demographic is also more likely to explore the daily use of Aspirin in order to reduce this risk.
One of the top health insurance concerns for seniors is the question “will Medicare pay for assisted living?”. Since the risk of assisted living increases with the occurrence of a heart attack or stroke, it makes sense why many seniors would try to prevent these events.
However, as we have illustrated, the daily use of Aspirin for the primary prevention of cardiovascular events has many risks. Even in cases where people at higher risk for cardiovascular disease may benefit from daily aspirin use, it is essential that they make that decision in consultation with a healthcare professional.
Other risk factors of Aspirin
While daily use is clearly a primary catalyst for health risks in relation to Aspirin, other factors
can also result in adverse outcomes. Here are some:
- Drug interaction: Using Aspirin alongside anti-inflammatory painkillers, particularly antidepressants and warfarin can exacerbate the risk of internal bleeding.
- Underlying conditions: People with conditions such as bleeding disorders (like hemophilia), asthma, stomach ulcer, and liver or kidney disease should be cautious with aspirin use as it could have harmful side effects.
- Use for children: Doctors generally don’t recommend using Aspirin for children as it increases the risk of a condition known as Reyes syndrome.
- Alcohol consumption: It is considered unsafe to take Aspirin before or after consuming significant amounts of alcohol as this could lead to gastrointestinal bleeding.
Like many other pain relievers, Aspirin can be easily gotten over the counter without a prescription. It is, however, crucial to pay attention to the potential risks of Aspirin to use it safely.