What is aspirin used for?
Aspirin may be prescribed by a medical doctor for a specific treatment purpose or it can be bought over-the-counter (non-prescription).
1. Prescription uses
Prescription recommendations will normally be controlled by the prescribing doctor so as to avoid as many unwanted side-effects as possible. The use of aspirin is mainly recommended for the relief of pain and inflammation which can develop as symptoms due to a variety of different medical conditions – many of which may already be under pharmacologic treatment (i.e. medications have been prescribed and are being used to treat them). Informing your doctor of what one is taking in terms of medications and supplements is necessary so that he /she can control what you are taking as the use of certain medications simultaneously may result in further ailments, discomforts or complications.
Aspirin can be prescribed for inflammatory or pain-related conditions such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis / RA (swelling that affects the lining of the body’s joints, causing pain and discomfort)
- Osteoarthritis (joint pain as a result of the disintegration of the lining of the joints)
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (also referred to as juvenile RA, this condition causes stiffness, pain and inflammation of the joints in children)
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (pain and swelling which occurs as a result of the immune system mistaking the body’s own tissues, including those of the joints and organs, as foreign invaders and ‘attacking them’)
- Spondyloarthropathy or spondylarthrosis (a joint disease affecting the vertebral column)
2. Non-prescription uses
Mild to moderate pain and discomfort, as well as a low-grade fever are the most common reasons aspirin may be taken. Such symptoms do not necessarily require direct medical attention and can be effectively managed (over the short-term) with over-the-counter aspirin products. Aspirin used in this regard is referred to as ‘immediate release’ and has both an antipyretic and analgesic effect.
Mild to moderate pain can include:
- Pain or cramping (including that which is associated with menstrual periods)
- Symptoms associated with colds and flu (influenza)
- Muscle aches
There are numerous products available which incorporate aspirin as an ingredient. Such combination products include general pain-relievers, cold and flu medications, cough syrups and antacids.
3. Off-label uses of aspirin
There are various other reasons aspirin may be recommended by a medical professional, and which are not specifically approved on the medication label.
Aspirin may be recommended to individuals as a means to help prevent a serious illness. Persons who experience angina (chest pain as a result of a lack of oxygen in the heart muscle) or who have survived a heart attack (also known as an acute myocardial infarction), may be recommended regular doses of aspirin. Medication use in this regard can help to prevent another heart attack (recurrent myocardial infarction) in future and also alleviate chest pain (determined as either unstable or chronic).
Those who are high risk for a potential stroke may also be advised to take regular doses of aspirin. Such a recommendation may be made to potentially reduce the risk of ischemic and ‘mini-strokes’ (transient ischemic attacks / TIAs) as a result of blood clot formations in the body’s blood vessels. Aspirin is not regarded as an effective treatment option for preventing haemorrhagic strokes, however, where bleeding in the brain occurs.
Aspirin may also be recommended to help prevent cardiovascular disease development in high-risk patients. Such a recommendation is known as a ‘percutaneous coronary intervention’ and may help to reduce the risk of coronary artery narrowing.
Individuals who have received a prosthetic heart valve are typically prescribed or advised to take chronic oral anticoagulation medications like aspirin.
Aspirin for preventative purposes may be recommended in immediate release or extended-release forms. Recommendations may not necessarily be provided in script form in this regard but will be monitored by a medical doctor during future follow-up consultations.
Aspirin may also be used by doctors performing revascularisation procedures (before, during and after surgery), such as a coronary artery bypass graft / CABG, carotid endarterectomy or transluminal coronary angioplasty. In such instances, the use of aspirin can help to improve blood flow in the body following the alleviation of relevant obstructions in the arteries.
Other procedures where aspirin may be useful include:
- Aortic valve repair
- Blalock-Taussig, Norwood, Glenn and Fontan shunt placement surgeries
- Peripheral artery percutaneous transluminal angioplasty
- Peripheral artery bypass graft surgery
- Surgical placement of septal defect devices as treatment for congenital heart conditions - Transcatheter atrial septal defect / ASD or ventricular septal defect / VSD
- Surgical placement of a ventricular assist device (VAD) – assisting with cardiac circulation
Other off-label uses involve treatment, reduced risk or prevention of…
- Atrial fibrillation (thromboembolism)
- Narrowing of blood vessels (asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis)
- Colorectal adenomas (benign tumours of the colon / rectum) and cancer
- Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer / HNPCC)
- Kawasaki disease (a condition which involves the inflammation of the blood vessel wall linings)
- Pericarditis (swelling of the membrane surrounding the heart / pericardium)
- Preeclampsia (high blood pressure developing as a complication of pregnancy)
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) – also referred to as peripheral vascular disease
- Polycythaemia vera (blood clot formation as a complication of this type of blood cancer)
- Rheumatic fever (inflammation in the heart, blood vessels and joints)
- Venous thromboembolism (a complication of deep vein thrombosis / DVT and pulmonary embolism)