Last published: January 28, 2020
What is aspirin?
Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is a pharmaceutical drug used to reduce pain1,2 or inflammation.3 It is classified as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
Aspirin can be used to treat:
- mild to moderate pain
- swollen, red and tender body tissues
- rheumatoid arthritis
- rheumatic fever.4
It is also used in the prevention of blood clots, heart attacks, strokes and bowel cancer.5-8 However, while some studies have found that aspirin can reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and bowel, stomach and oesophageal cancer; experts still advise that clinicians exercise caution when using aspirin as a preventative measure, as it can increase the risk of bleeding and damage the stomach. 9-11 People with kidney disease, liver damage or haemophilia should consult a doctor before using aspirin.12,13
Some people use aspirin to get ‘high’, or as an act of self-harm by intentionally taking more than the recommended dose.14
Aspirin is usually swallowed and comes in different forms including:
- soluble powders and tablets
Aspirin may also be known by its brand or trade names. Some common examples include:
|Generic name||Brand names|
|Aspirin||Aspro Clear®, Disprin®|
|Aspirin and codeine||Aspalgin®, Codral Cold & Flu Original®|
Effects of aspirin
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk – even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Aspirin affects everyone differently, based on:
- size, weight and health
- whether the person is used to taking it
- whether other drugs are taken around the same time
- the amount taken.
The most common side effects of aspirin are:
- dizziness, ringing in the ears, blurred vision
- drowsiness, fatigue, depression
- thirst, sweating, fluid retention, swollen ankles
- abdominal discomfort or bloating
- nausea, heartburn, diarrhoea, constipation.4
If the dose is too high, you might overdose. Call an ambulance straight away by dialling triple zero (000) if you have any of these symptoms (ambulance officers do not have to involve the police):
- rapid and shallow breathing
- stop breathing, coma and death.4
It’s best to discuss the side effects of long term use with a medical practitioner. However, regular use of aspirin may eventually cause:
- anaemia (low red blood cell count)
- easy bruising and abnormal bleeding
- inflamed stomach lining, stomach bleeding and peptic ulcers
- vomiting blood that may look like coffee grounds and bowel motions that look like black tar
- an allergic-type reaction, wheezy breathing and a tightness in the chest in adults, hives in children, and in some rare cases swelling of the face, lips, tongue or around the eyes
- reduced kidney and liver function.12
Using aspirin with other drugs
The effects of taking aspirin with other drugs, including alcohol, prescription medications and other over-the-counter medicines, are often unpredictable.
Aspirin + alcohol: can increase the risk of stomach irritation and discomfort.4
Aspirin + warfarin or some blood pressure medicines: may increase the risk of bleeding.4
- Sudhakar V, Vinodhini TS, Mohan AM, Srinivasan B, Rajkumar BK. The efficacy of different pre- and post-operative analgesics in the management of pain after orthodontic separator placement: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Pharmacy & Bioallied Sciences. 2014;6(S1):S80-S4.
- Voelker M, Schachtel S, Cooper S, Gatoulis S. Efficacy of disintegrating aspirin in two different models for acute mild-to-moderate pain: sore throat pain and dental pain. Inflammopharmacology. 2016;24(1):43-51.
- Morris T, Stables M, Hobbs A, de Souza P, Colville-Nash P, Warner T, et al. Effects of Low-Dose Aspirin on Acute Inflammatory Responses in Humans. The Journal of Immunology. 2009;183(3):2089.
- Upfal J. The Australian drug guide : every person's guide to prescription and over-the-counter medicines, street drugs, vaccines, vitamins and minerals. 8th ed. ed: m2m Direct Pty Ltd; 2016.
- Henrekens C. Steering Committee of the Physicians Health Study Research Group Final report on the aspirin component of the ongoing Physicians Health Study. N Engl J Med. 1989;321:129-35.
- Medical Research Council's General Practice Research Framework. Thrombosis prevention trial: randomised trial of low-intensity oral anticoagulation with warfarin and low-dose aspirin in the primary prevention of ischaemic heart disease in men at increased risk. The Lancet. 1998;351(9098):233-41.
- Passarelli MN, Barry EL, Zhang D, Gangar P, Rees JR, Bresalier RS, et al. Aspirin, folic acid and risk of basal cell carcinoma. British Journal of Dermatology. 2018;179(2):e110-e.
- Featherstone C. Aspirin for bowel cancer: an old friend finds a new role. The Lancet. 1997;350(9075):418.
- Barbarawi M, Kheiri B, Zayed Y, Gakhal I, Al-Abdouh A, Barbarawi O, et al. Aspirin Efficacy in Primary Prevention: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. High Blood Pressure & Cardiovascular Prevention: The Official Journal Of The Italian Society Of Hypertension. 2019;26(4):283-91.
- Cuzick J, Thorat MA, Bosetti C, Brown PH, Burn J, Cook NR, et al. Estimates of benefits and harms of prophylactic use of aspirin in the general population. Annals of Oncology. 2014;26(1):47-57.
- Cook, Lee, Zhang, Moorthy, Buring. Alternate-Day, Low-Dose Aspirin and Cancer Risk: Long-Term Observational Follow-up of a Randomized Trial. 2013:77.
- National Kidney Foundation. Watch out for your kidneys when you use medicines for pain United States: National Kidney Foundation; 2019
- Haemophilia Foundation Australia. Do NOT give your child aspirin Australia: Haemophilia Foundation Australia; 2018
- Goldrich D, Sreedhar A, Aziz R, Kaufman KR, Tobia A, Trenton A. Aspirin misuse: a case report. Bjpsych Open. 2019;5(5):e65-e.