Aspirin Therapy for Heart Attack and Stroke

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Aspirin and antiplatelet drugs for the Prevention and Treatment of Heart Attacks and Strokes (Coronary and Cerebral Vascular Disease)

What is aspirin?

Aspirin belongs to a class of medications called nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs(NSAIDs). Aspirin and other NSAIDs, for example, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, etc.) and naproxen (for example, Aleve, etc.), are widely used to treat fever, pain, and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis, and bursitis. Aspirin is known chemically as acetyl salicylic acid and often abbreviated as ASA.

In addition to its effects on pain, fever, and inflammation, aspirin also has an important inhibitory effect on platelets in the blood. This antiplatelet effect is used to prevent blood clot formation inside arteries, particularly in individuals who have atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) or are otherwise prone to develop blood clots in their arteries.

What are the side effects of aspirin?

Serious side effects of aspirin and other NSAIDs occur infrequently. However, they may occur and generally tend to be more frequent with higher doses. Therefore, it is advisable to use the lowest effective dose to minimize side effects.

The most common side effects of aspirin involve the gastrointestinal system, which include

  • ulcers of the stomach and duodenum (first part of the small intestine),
  • abdominal pain,
  • nausea,
  • gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), and
  • even serious gastrointestinal bleeding from ulcers.

Occasionally, aspirin may be toxic to the liver.

Sometimes, ulcers of the stomach and bleeding occur without any abdominal pain, and the only signs of bleeding may be:

Another serious but rare side effect of aspirin is intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding into the tissues of the brain), similar to a hemorrhagic stroke.

Aspirin can impair function of the kidney and liver, especially in patients who already have liver and kidney disease. Other side effects of aspirin include easy bruising, vertigo, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and lightheadedness.

Serious side effects of aspirin, such as bleeding ulcers or intracranial bleeding, are rare (less than 1% of patients) among patients taking moderate doses of aspirin (for example, 325 mg/d). Serious side effects of aspirin should be even lower with low doses such as 75-160 mg/d. However, the actual incidence of serious bleeding with long-term use of low dose aspirin has not been clearly determined.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/15/2015

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