How it works

December 06, 1991

ASPIRIN blocks production of a family of fatty acids called prostaglandins. Reducing prostaglandins reduces the pain and fever associated with colds and flu and also inflammation, helping make arthritis and bursitis victims more comfortable. The most recent revelation is that aspirin may help prevent deaths from colon cancer. But it's a serious drug -- doctors say check with a physician before taking on a regular basis -- and has other effects on the human body, as well.

MAJOR DISCOVERIES

* In the 1980s, research showed aspirin reduces risk of heart attacks and thrombotic (clot-caused) strokes. It cuts the stickiness of blood-clotting particles called platelets and therefore reduces the risk of blood clots in blood vessels of the heart and brain.

OTHER EFFECTS

* Aspirin can cause irritation of stomach lining, which can lead to ulcers in some people if taken in large doses.

Overdose symptoms include ringing in the ears, vomiting, dehydration, lethargy, confusion and loss of consciousness.

WHEN NOT TO TAKE

* Without a doctor's advice if you have a bleeding disorder or if you are taking other drugs to reduce blood clotting, if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure (which can lead to a hemorrhagic stroke), if you are facing surgery in the next couple of weeks, if you have ulcers. Also, if you have kidney or liver disease or gout, if you are pregnant.

Don't take without a doctor's recommendation if you are or might be allergic to it. Aspirin allergy is most likely to occur in people with asthma.

Aspirin should not be given to anyone younger than 18 because of an association with Reye's Syndrome, a potentially life-threatening disease.

If you can take aspirin, however, a generic is as good as a brand name. An enteric-coated aspirin is safer for your stomach.

Sources include Bobbie Brown, Pharm.D., at University of Maryland Drug Information Center at the School of Pharmacy and "Best Medicine" by Joe Graedon & Theresa Graedon.

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