Printer Friendly

On the other hand....

We are rapidly learning that aspirin is not just a simple remedy for aches and pains. The latest report of its versatility is a 12-year Boston University study of 6,000 persons who took aspirin or related drugs regularly for various purposes. These people were found to have half the risk for colorectal cancer than those who did not use the drugs.

Although the study's results are being viewed as only preliminary until verified by a more carefully controlled study, they certainly add to aspirin's reputation as a wonder drug.

How can a drug of such simple chemical structure--and probably the cheapest drug that money can buy these days--have a salutary effect on so many different conditions? The answer seems to be its inhibiting effect on the production of prostaglandins, the hormone-like substances that are involved in one way or another with most bodily functions.

A number of studies, some beginning almost 20 years ago, showed that aspirin might cut the risk of subsequent strokes in persons who had already had a stroke or a strokelike episode called a transient ischemic attack. By inhibiting the blood clots that may block cerebral blood vessels (and thus prevent oxygen from reaching whatever part of the brain the vessels served), aspirin was shown to decrease the risk of subsequent strokes by 20 to 50 percent. Although some worried that this anticlotting ability might actually increase another kind of stroke (i.e., bleeding into the brain through a weak spot, or aneurysm, in the wall of a vessel), such has not been the case.

Cardiovascular disease, as we have noted previously, was the next major area in which the regular use of small doses of aspirin had a profoundly beneficial preventive effect. Heart attacks were 40 percent less in the group of 22,000 male doctors who received aspirin in the Harvard study than in the group that received a placebo. Lest they be accused of ignoring the problem of heart attacks in women, the Harvard researchers then studied 6,000 nurses over a six-year period. They reported this past July that those who took one to six aspirin tables a week had 25 percent fewer heart attacks than those who took none.

Nor is the effect of aspirin limited to prevention of heart attacks. The Second International Study of Infarct Survival involved more than 17,000 persons who had suffered heart attacks. In 1988, the study found that one tablet of aspirin daily for 30 days immediately following the attack was just as effective as the standard one-hour infusion of streptokinase, a clot-dissolving enzyme. Each form of treatment alone reduced the death rate by 25 percent--and when used together, by 42 percent.

Other promising areas of research in which the results are as yet only preliminary are in the prevention of such diverse conditions as influenza, migraine, senile dementia, gallstones, and preeclampsia (a dangerous rise in blood pressure during pregnancy). In the case of influenza, aspirin appears to enhance the production of antibodies when given with a flu vaccine. Although aspirin will not relieve the pain of migraine, it may help to prevent the attacks.

One study reports that 70 dementia patients who had suffered minor strokes showed an increase in cerebral blood flow and intellectual capacity after taking a daily aspirin tablet. Persons in a London study who previously had gallstones dissolved by medication were then given aspirin; none suffered recurrences over the next three years. In contrast, more than 30 percent of those who did not take aspirin had recurrences. Among patients with preeclampsia, the group that took aspirin saw a 65 percent reduction in risk.

Like any drug, aspirin may have side effects--bleeding complications, gastric discomfort, or other ill-defined adverse effects. Anyone contemplating its regular use, therefore, should discuss the matter with his or her doctor. A recent Dutch study has shown that a daily dose of 30 mg may be just as effective as the standard 300 mg dose--with fewer side effects.

People with coronary artery disease, a narrowed carotid artery, or a history of thrombotic stroke are especially urged to consider daily aspirin usage. So, too, should those with one or more of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease (smoking, diabetes, hypertension, elevatd cholesterol, heavy alcohol consumption, severe obesity, and family history of coronary disease--or of stroke--before age 55).
COPYRIGHT 1991 Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:versatility of aspirin in treating various ailments
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Aspirin - not always the best thing for a headache.
Next Article:Red or white - don't be blue.

Related Articles
Aspirin cuts risk of first heart attack.
Aspirin may decrease risk of colon cancer.
Aspirin may block pregnancy hypertension.
A heartening finding for women on aspirin.
The dramatic story of aspirin - one of our oldest remedies.
Long-term aspirin use prevents some cancer.
Selected Abstracts [*].

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters