Acetylsalicylic acid, more commonly known as aspirin, is a member of the salicylate family of chemicals and is an analgesic and anti-inflammatory medication. Aspirin is classified as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and is available in both over-the counter and prescription formulations. Over-the-counter aspirin is available in regular and coated delayed-release tablets, chewable tablets, powder form, gum and rectal suppository; prescription aspirin is typically produced in an extended-release form designed to provide long-lasting relief from pain. Low-dose formulations are also available for therapeutic use.
Uses for Aspirin
Aspirin is used throughout the world to control pain and reduce fever. Powerful and effective, aspirin can be used alone or in conjunction with other medications to relieve pain. It works by suppressing the synthesis of prostaglandins, hormones that play a crucial role in pain transmission in the central nervous system. Aspirin is especially effective against throbbing or dull pain and is often recommended for patients suffering from these conditions:
• Spinal stenosis
• Rheumatic fever
• Arthritis pain
• Chronic back pain
• Muscle and joint pain
Aspirin also reduces the production of thromboxane compounds. These hormones are an important element in blood coagulation; by limiting their presence in the bloodstream, aspirin reduces the tendency of blood to clot. As a result, low-dose aspirin therapies are often recommended for patients at risk for heart disease or stroke. Initial clinical studies indicate that prolonged use of low-dose aspirin may even provide protection against certain cancers. For most patients, however, pain relief is the primary reason to use aspirin therapies.
Aspirin is not recommended for patients with peptic ulcers, hemophilia, kidney disease or gout. Children and adolescents should not take aspirin due to the risk of Reye's disease, a dangerous illness that can cause brain injury and death if not treated immediately. Patients who are already taking prescription blood thinners should use aspirin only under close medical supervision. Individuals with allergies to ibuprofen or the NSAID category of medications should not take aspirin.
Known Drug Interactions
Aspirin may interact with other prescription and over-the-counter medications to reduce or amplify their effects. Drugs known to interact with aspirin include the following classes of medications:
• Blood thinners, including heparin and warfarin
• NSAIDs, including naproxen and phenytoin
• Quinapril, ramipril and lisinopril
• Beta blockers
Aspirin may reduce the effectiveness of other medications as well. Patients should provide their physician with a complete list of all medications, vitamins and supplements before beginning an aspirin pain relief regimen.
Side Effects of Aspirin Use
The primary negative effect of aspirin pain management therapy is the irritation and bleeding it can cause in the gastrointestinal tract. This potentially serious side effect can be mitigated to some degree by adding vitamin C to the dosage. The amino acid S-adenosyl-methionine has also proven effective in reducing the gastrointestinal damage associated with aspirin therapy. Other potential side effects include the following:
• Skin irritation and swelling
• Ringing in the ears
• Severe headache
• Micro-bleeds in brain tissue
These side effects are rare and can be serious. Patients should seek medical attention at once if any of these side effects are observed or suspected.
Aspirin is a powerful pain management tool and should be used under the supervision of a physician to achieve the most effective control of chronic back pain. Alone or in combination with other pain medications, aspirin can help manage the pain and inflammation associated with most spinal disorders.