The main ingredient of aspirin, which is found in plant extracts such as willow bark, has been used for centuries as a pain reliever. In the late 1800s, a chemist synthesized a form of the compound, called acetylsalicylic acid, that was well tolerated in people and is found in aspirin tablets today.
In addition to relieving pain, the drug may have a number of other effects on the body. Here are five facts about aspirin:
- Reduces the risk of heart attacks
Taking a low dose of aspirin daily may reduce the risk of heart attacks. That's because aspirin prevents cells called platelets from clumping together inside blood vessels. Platelet clumping is essential to repair wounds, but clots that are too large can block blood vessels and prevent blood flow, leading to a heart attack. This risk of blood clots is higher for people with atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in the arteries.
The American Heart Association recommends daily, low-dose aspirin for people at high risk for heart attack, or who have survived a heart attack. However, people should speak with their doctor first about whether daily aspirin is right for them, AHA says.
Aspirin can have side effects, including an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, that need to be weighed against the benefits of taking the drug.
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