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Aspirin

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Updated June 10, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Active Ingredient:

Aspirin

May also be listed as acetylsalicylic acid

Brand Names:

Aspirin is sold under many brand names, some of the most common being: Bayer, Bufferin and Ecotrin.

It may also be used in products that contain other ingredients in combination with aspirin, such as Alka-Seltzer, BC Powder, Goody's Powder, Excedrin and Pepto-Bismol.

Symptoms Relieved by Aspirin:

Aspirin is used for many reasons. Some of the more common uses are:

  • Pain reliever
  • Fever reducer
  • Blood thinner
  • Stroke and heart attack prevention

Prescription-strength aspirin may be used to treat conditions like arthritis, but the following focuses on the over-the-counter version used to treat pain and fever.

Directions:

If you are taking aspirin for pain relief or to reduce a fever, it can generally be taken every 4 to 6 hours.

If it's an ingredient in a multi-symptom medication, follow the dosage instructions on the product, as it may need to be taken less frequently.

Precautions:

Talk to your health care provider before taking aspirin if you have a history of asthma, frequent congestion (stuffy nose), frequent runny nose or nasal polyps. These may be indicators that you could be allergic to aspirin.

Discuss all other medications, vitamins and supplements you are taking with your health care provider or pharmacist prior to taking aspirin. It can interact with many other products, and should be avoided if you are taking certain medications.

Side Effects:

Side effects due to aspirin can occur in some people. Some of the more common side effects include:

  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn

Other more serious side effects require medical attention. Contact your health care provider right away or seek immediate medical help if you experience these symptoms while taking aspirin:

  • Rash or hives
  • Swelling of the face, tongue, lips, eyes or throat
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Rapid heartbeat or rapid breathing
  • Loss of hearing or ringing in the ears
  • Vomiting blood, or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
  • Bright red or black, tarry stools

Who Should Not Take Aspirin:

Aspirin should not be taken by some people or under certain conditions. These include:

  • Anyone with an allergy to aspirin, other pain relievers or fever reducers (particularly NSAIDs), or tartrazine dye (talk to your health care provider to determine your risk)
  • Children under the age of 18, unless specifically instructed by his or her doctor
  • Pregnant women, especially during the last trimester of pregnancy
  • Women who are breastfeeding

Warnings:

Although aspirin is one of the most common and widely-used medications available for pain and fever, there are many people who should take caution before using it. If any of the following situations pertain to you, speak with your health care provider before taking aspirin.

  1. You suffer from heartburn, acid reflux or stomach pain, and you have a history of ulcers, anemia or bleeding problems.
  2. You are pregnant or think you might be pregnant.
  3. You are having surgery or a dental procedure.
  4. You drink three or more alcoholic beverages a day.
  5. You take other medications for pain, such as Advil or Motrin.
  6. You take other medications that could thin your blood, such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, anticoagulants, diuretics, medications for diabetes, gout, arthritis or other NSAIDs.

In Case of Aspirin Overdose

It is possible to overdose on aspirin, and it can have life-threatening consequences. If you have any of these symptoms of an overdose after taking aspirin—even if you aren't sure that you took too much—contact Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Burning pain in throat or stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Decreased urination
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Confusion
  • Talking rapidly without making much sense
  • Dizziness or double vision
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness

Using Aspirin for Cold and Flu Symptoms:

If your health care provider determines that it's safe for you, aspirin can be taken to treat pain and fever that often accompany colds and the flu. Be sure to follow the directions for use provided on the package of the medication you are taking.

If you are taking medications that treat multiple symptoms of the cold and flu, be sure to read the ingredients list of each medication to make sure you're not getting too much of one ingredient. For example, many people don't know that Pepto-Bismol contains aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). To avoid getting too much aspirin or other ingredients in multi-symptom medications, discuss them all with your doctor or pharmacist.

Sources:

"Aspirin." MedlinePlus. 27 Sep 12. American Society of Health System Pharmacists, Inc. US National Library of Medicine. 24 Oct 12.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Cold & Flu
  4. Medication and Tools
  5. Over the Counter Medication
  6. Fever and Pain
  7. Aspirin Pain Reliever Facts and Concerns

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