What is aspirin?

Taking aspirin safely

  • Take aspirin with food.

    If aspirin upsets your stomach, you can try taking it with food. But if that doesn't help, talk with your doctor. Aspirin can irritate the stomach lining and sometimes cause serious problems.

  • Talk to a doctor before a surgery or procedure

    Before you have a surgery or procedure that may cause bleeding, tell your doctor or dentist that you take aspirin. Aspirin may cause you to bleed more than usual. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking aspirin before your surgery or procedure. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.

  • Do not suddenly stop taking aspirin.

    Do not suddenly stop taking aspirin without talking to your doctor first. Talking to your cardiologist first is especially important if you have had a stent placed in a coronary artery.

  • Seek help for signs of serious bleeding.

    Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if you have any abnormal bleeding, such as:

    • A nosebleed that you can't easily stop.
    • Bloody or black stools, or rectal bleeding.
    • Bloody or pink urine.
  • Tell your doctor about all your medicines.

    Aspirin should not be taken with many prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, herbal remedies, and supplements. So before you start aspirin therapy, talk to your doctor about all the drugs and other remedies you take.

  • Be careful taking pain relievers.

    Although nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen relieve pain and inflammation much like aspirin does, they do not affect blood clotting in the same way that aspirin does. Do not substitute NSAIDs for aspirin. NSAIDs may increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

  • Take NSAIDs safely.

    If you need both aspirin and an NSAID pain reliever every day, talk to your doctor first. Ask your doctor what pain reliever you should take. You may be able to use another type of pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, to treat your pain.

    If you take an NSAID every day, your doctor may recommend that you take the NSAID and aspirin pills at different times. If you take these pills at the same time, aspirin might not work as well to prevent a heart attack or stroke. Do not take the NSAID pill during either the 8 hours before or the 30 minutes after you take aspirin. Here's an example: Take your aspirin. Wait 30 minutes. Then take your NSAID.

    If you take an NSAID once in a while, it does not seem to cause problems with aspirin.

  • Discuss alcohol with your doctor.

    Ask your doctor if you can drink alcohol while you take aspirin. And ask how much you can drink. Too much alcohol with aspirin can cause stomach bleeding.

  • Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant.

    If you are pregnant, do not take aspirin unless your doctor says it is okay.

How does aspirin work to prevent a heart attack or stroke?

Aspirin slows the blood's clotting action by reducing the clumping of platelets. Platelets are cells that clump together and help to form blood clots. Aspirin keeps platelets from clumping together, thus helping to prevent or reduce blood clots.

Most heart attacks and strokes are caused by blood clots. Blood clots can form in arteries and block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle or part of the brain.

When taken daily after having a heart attack or stroke, aspirin helps prevent dangerous clots from happening again.

Daily aspirin may also be helpful for preventing clots in some people who are at high risk for a heart attack or stroke if they are also at low risk of bleeding problems, which can happen more while taking aspirin because it reduces clots. That's why it's important to talk to your doctor before starting daily aspirin.

How do you take aspirin to prevent a heart attack or stroke?

Talk to your doctor before taking daily aspirin. It's not right for everyone.

If you and your doctor decide that daily aspirin is right for you, your doctor will recommend a dose of aspirin and how often to take it. Low-dose aspirin (81 mg) is the most common dose used to prevent a heart attack or a stroke. A typical schedule is to take aspirin every day. Be sure you know what dose of aspirin to take and how often to take it.

Aspirin can cause serious bleeding. Be sure you get instructions about how to take aspirin safely.

What are some cautions about aspirin?

Do not take aspirin if you are allergic to aspirin. Many over-the-counter medicines contain aspirin. Read labels carefully. And look for its generic name: acetylsalicylic acid, or ASA.

Talk to your doctor before you take aspirin if you:

  • Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
  • Are breastfeeding.
  • Have nasal polyps.
  • Have a blood-clotting disorder or take blood thinners (anticoagulants).
  • Have peptic ulcer disease.
  • Have a history of gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • Will be having surgery or a procedure.

Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.

Stop taking aspirin immediately if your stools are black or tarry. This may be a sign of bleeding in your bowels.

What does aspirin do?

Aspirin (such as Bayer or Bufferin) relieves pain and reduces fever and inflammation. It also prevents blood clots from forming in the arteries. Doctors sometimes recommend daily aspirin for people at high risk of heart attack or stroke.

What are the side effects of aspirin?

The most common side effect of aspirin is stomach upset or discomfort. Taking it with food may help. Aspirin can also cause headaches. Sometimes it can make you bleed or bruise more easily. Stop taking it and call a doctor if side effects don't go away within 4 hours.

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