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Aspirin: The Wonders and Dangers

 Aspirin:  The Wonders and Dangers

Q: I understand that aspirin is a wonder drug because it has many uses. what are the different uses and side effects of aspirin? — Lorna P., Las Pinas City

MANILA, Philippines — a: Aspirin or acetyl salicylic acid is one of the earliest medicines discovered by Hippocrates, who is considered the father of medicine and who lived sometime between 460 BC and 377 BC.  he described the use of powder made from the bark and leaves of the willow tree, which later was found out to have salicylic acid, to relieve headache, fever and pain. but it was a French chemist, Charles Frederic Gerhardt, who first synthesized acetylsalicylic acid in 1853. later, chemists working at Bayer AG derived a synthetically altered version of the drug from the species meadowsweet (filipendulaulmaria) and named itaspirin, a word coined from acetyl and spirsäure, an old German name for salicylic acid. Subsequently, it was found out that aspirin, at high doses has an anti-inflammatory effect and in time, aspirin became the prototypical drug for a group of substances called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—drugs with analgesic and antipyretic (fever-reducing) effects and at higher doses, anti-inflammatory effects which reduces swelling, pain, tenderness and limitation of joint movement associated with arthritis and injuries.

Aspirin was the most popular analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory drug worldwide until paracetamol (acetaminophen) and ibuprofen, which are safer than aspirin, were released into the market in 1956 and 1969, respectively. The latter two drugs led to a decline in the use of aspirin. however, in the last few decades, the popularity of aspirin has resurged because in the 1980s, it was established that the drug is an effective anticlotting agent that reduces the risk of clotting diseases, the underlying causes of many heart attacks and strokes.

At present, aspirin is still being used for pain, fever and inflammation, but to a limited degree because aspirin has side effects that newer drugs don’t have. Aspirin can irritate the stomach, leading to nausea, vomiting, heartburn and persistent stomach pain. Other side effects include ringing in the ears, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, diarrhea, bleeding, heartburn, indigestion and allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty of breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue), which can sometimes be fatal. Aspirin could also damage the kidneys.

In children and teenagers with fever, especially if caused by viral infection, aspirin has been associated with the development of a potentially fatal condition called Reye Syndrome. For this reason, aspirin should never be given to anyone under 20 who has a fever.

Aspirin is currently widely used as an anti-coagulant or anti-clotting agent given to sufferers of heart attack, mini-stroke and unstable angina.Daily aspirin therapy may likewise lower the risk of heart attack and stroke, but only for certain people.

Daily aspirin therapy is only recommended for those who have had a heart attack or stroke, or those who have high risk for either. The latter group include those who possess the following risk factors associated with heart attacks and strokes: smoking; high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, poor lipid profile, diabetes, family history of stroke or heart attack, sedentary lifestyle, stress and alcohol consumption amounting to more than two alcoholic drinks for men and one for women.

Daily aspirin therapy should be undertaken only under the supervision of a physician because although taking an occasional aspirin or two among adults to treat headaches, body aches or fever is safe, daily use of aspirin can have serious effects.

Incidentally, scientific evidence, albeit inconclusive, suggest that aspirin may also be useful in the treatment and/or prevention of a host of conditions including migraine; cataract; ovarian, breast, prostate and colon cancer and leukemia.

(Email inquiries on health matters to: medical_notes@yahoo.com)

Aspirin: The Wonders and Dangers

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