Despite the development of new drugs, aspirin remains the most widely used of all drugs. This inexpensive medication is known formally as acetyl salicylic acid. It has been used to relieve pain, lower fever, reduce inflammation, and more recently as a preventative treatment for strokes and heart attacks. It’s useful too in the management of rheumatoid arthritis.
Aspirin helps prevent heart attacks by blocking an enzyme that makes platelets sticky. Platelets exposed to aspirin are unable to produce these enzymes. Platelets live for less than two weeks and turnover at a rate of about ten percent per day. Since it takes a few days for platelets to regain their normal “stickiness” after exposure to aspirin, an aspirin every other day is usually sufficient to prevent arterial blockage.
While aspirin is important for those of us who have heart disease, there is evidence that everyone over age fifty benefits from low doses of aspirin. However, like all drugs there are risks as well as benefits associated with aspirin. About ten percent of those who take uncoated aspirin suffer occasionally from some sort of stomach distress. More serious is Reye’s syndrome, a rare and sometimes fatal reaction to aspirin, experienced by children and adolescents recovering from chicken pox or the flu.
So next time someone talks about wonder drugs, put in a good word for our old friend aspirin.