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Aspirin has many benefits but has drawbacks as well

Posted - Dec. 15, 2004 at 4:20 p.m.



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HAMILTON, Ohio _ It's often kept in a medicine cabinet in the bathroom or on a shelf in the kitchen.

Although aspirin helps to relieve minor aches and pain, it also works to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

But before people reach in their medicine cabinets for that bottle, doctors want to make patients aware of the aspirin's side effects that can do more harm than good.

"For normal people with no medical problems, the side effects (of aspirin) might outweigh the benefits," said Dr. Mausi Okunade, a family practitioner and geriatrics at The Fort Hamilton Hospital. "Aspirin can be used as a secondary prevention when you're trying to prevent a second heart attack. A person with diabetes, it's used as a primary prevention."

Aspirin is considered a salicylate that works by reducing substances in the body that cause pain and inflammation, according to medical experts. It's commonly used to reduce pain, inflammation and fever.

Aspirin works as an anti-platelet prevention to the blood vessel that makes the blood thin, Okunade said.

By thinning the blood, it helps to reduce mortality and infarction. When a patient loses oxygen, even small blood clots can cause the body's tissue to die. Blood that becomes thick and sticky has the potential for creating a blood clot which restricts oxygen to the body and can cause a heart attack or stroke.

"It's a blood clotting antagonist. The lining of the blood vessel keeps it (blood) flowing freely for people who have problems with blood clots," Okunade said.

However, aspirin can help prevent heart attacks, transient ischemic attacks or "mini-strokes" and strokes under medical supervision.

Those who suffer from ulcers, liver disease, have a blood clot disorder, fluid retention, congestive heart failure, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, nasal polyps and those who drink more than three alcoholic beverages a day should consult their doctor before taking aspirin, physicians say.

When taking aspirin, physicians often recommend a small dosage especially for patients who are on a daily regiment.

Medical experts say a small dose of aspirin such as less than 100 milligrams can inhibit the body's production of prostaglandins _ an effective hormone-like substance that helps to process pain, fever and inflammation.

"Aspirin itself is notorious for gastric inflammation of the lining of the stomach. Some people are more prone to bleeding because it's very acidic," Okunade said.

For those easily upset stomachs, perhaps taking aspirin that has a safety coating would be best.

Aspirin with enteric coating enables delayed the release to dissolve in the small intestine.

Medical experts of Bayer HealthCare explained aspirin with coating takes two to fours hours to be absorbed for easy digestion. However, it doesn't allow quick pain relief.

Other options to help soothe the stomach when taking aspirin are to take it with milk or food.

People who have been diagnosed with diabetes, have had a heart attack or a stroke should consult their doctor before taking aspirin.

Those who just want to relieve minor pain with an over-the-counter product have other options than aspirin.

"If you need to take something for pain, Tylenol is the old favorite," Okunade said.

Carmen M. Henderson writes for the Hamilton JournalNews. E-mail: chenderson@coxohio.com

Cox News Service

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