Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on March 13, 2023
Aspirin, belonging to the salicylates family of compounds, is a widely recognized pain reliever that has been used for decades to help alleviate headaches, menstrual cramps, fever, and other minor aches and pains. It is also often used to reduce inflammation and swelling in various parts of the body. But is aspirin an NSAID?
In this article, we will explore the relationship between aspirin and NSAIDs and investigate whether aspirin has the same anti-inflammatory effects as other common NSAIDs. We will also discuss its most common uses, its side effects, and general safety precautions when using aspirin.
What is an NSAID?
An NSAID, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, is a type of medication commonly used to relieve pain, fever, and inflammation.
NSAIDs work by inhibiting the production of certain chemicals in the body that lead to pain, swelling, and fever. They are available both over-the-counter and by prescription and are commonly used to treat conditions such as headaches, menstrual cramps, arthritis, and injuries.
Is Aspirin an NSAID?
Yes, aspirin is an NSAID. It works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, which are responsible for causing inflammation in the body.
Most common aspirin brands: Bayer, Bufferin, Excedrin, Ecotrin, Anacin
How Does Aspirin Work?
Aspirin specifically inhibits the COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes that produce prostaglandins, which are one of the main causes of inflammation. However, aspirin appears to inhibit COX-1 more than COX-2.
- COX-1 plays a key role in producing prostaglandins, which protect the stomach lining, regulate blood flow to the kidneys, and promote platelet aggregation.
- COX-2, on the other hand, is responsible for producing prostaglandins that promote inflammation, pain, and fever.
By blocking the activity of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, aspirin prevents the creation of prostaglandins, which in turn reduces inflammation, pain, and fever. However, the inhibition of COX-1 can also lead to unwanted side effects, such as stomach irritation, bleeding, and decreased kidney function. More on these potential side effects later in the article.
Common Uses for Aspirin
Aspirin is a medication that has various uses, both medical and non-medical. Here are the most common medical uses of aspirin:
- Pain relief: Aspirin is commonly used to relieve mild to moderate pain, such as headaches, toothaches, menstrual cramps, and muscle aches.
- Reducing fever: Aspirin is also used to reduce fever by inhibiting prostaglandins in the hypothalamus, which is responsible for regulating body temperature.
- Prevention of heart attacks and strokes: Aspirin is often used as a preventative measure for heart attacks and strokes, as it can reduce the risk of blood clots by thinning the blood.
- Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis: Aspirin is sometimes used to relieve the pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
- Inflammation and swelling: Aspirin can reduce inflammation and swelling caused by a variety of conditions, such as bursitis, tendonitis, and gout.
Aspirin Side Effects
Not every anti-inflammatory medication is perfectly safe. Here is a list of some common side effects of aspirin:
- Stomach upset or pain: Aspirin can irritate the stomach lining, leading to discomfort or even ulcers in some cases.
- Heartburn: This is a burning sensation in the chest that can be caused by aspirin irritating the esophagus.
- Nausea and vomiting: Aspirin’s irritation of the stomach lining can also lead to feelings of nausea or vomiting.
- Allergic reactions: Some people may experience an allergic reaction to aspirin, which can cause hives, itching, or difficulty breathing.
- Increased bleeding risk: Aspirin can thin the blood and increase the risk of bleeding, especially in those with bleeding disorders.
- Hearing problems: Long-term use of high doses of aspirin can cause hearing problems, including ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
- Reye’s syndrome: This rare but serious condition can occur in children and teenagers who have recently had a viral illness and take aspirin. It can cause liver and brain damage.
If you experience any of these side effects or any other unusual symptoms while taking aspirin, it is important to speak with your doctor.
Safety Precautions for Aspirin
Here are some safety precautions to take when using aspirin:
- Follow the recommended dosage: Take aspirin exactly as directed by your doctor or according to the instructions on the label. Do not exceed the recommended dosage, as this can increase the risk of side effects.
- Take with food: Taking aspirin with food can help reduce the risk of stomach upset.
- Avoid alcohol: Drinking alcohol while taking aspirin can increase the risk of stomach bleeding and liver damage.
- Check for interactions: Aspirin can interact with other medications, such as blood thinners, antidepressants, and some herbal supplements.
- Inform your doctor: If you have a history of stomach ulcers, bleeding disorders, asthma, or liver or kidney problems, inform your doctor before taking aspirin.
- Discontinue use before surgery: Stop taking aspirin at least one week before any surgery, dental procedure, or medical test to prevent excessive bleeding.
It is important to talk to your doctor before taking aspirin or any other medication, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking other medications.
Aspirin vs Ibuprofen
Aspirin and ibuprofen are commonly confused. They are both NSAIDs, but they have different mechanisms of action.
Aspirin works by blocking COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, which are responsible for producing prostaglandins that cause inflammation and pain. Ibuprofen also blocks COX enzymes, but it primarily blocks COX-2, which is involved in inflammation.
COX-1 plays a key role in protecting the stomach lining and regulating blood clotting, which means that aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding and stomach ulcers compared to ibuprofen. Additionally, aspirin has antiplatelet properties, which means it can reduce the risk of blood clots and heart attacks, whereas ibuprofen does not have this effect.
OTC Alternatives to Aspirin
If you don’t want to use aspirin, there are several other over-the-counter options to choose from. Either you can try acetaminophen, you can switch to a different type of NSAID, or you can adopt natural remedies for inflammation.
Remember, acetaminophen is not able to reduce swelling or inflammation—it can only block pain signals. But if that’s all you need, here are the most well-known brands to consider.
- Excedrin (also contains Aspirin)
Besides aspirin, here are the other two types of NSAIDs, along with their well-known OTC brands. Both types can decrease inflammation and swelling in the body.
- Ibuprofen: Advil, Motrin, Nuprin
- Naproxen: Aleve, Naprosyn, Anaprox, Mediproxen
How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally
If you’re the type that would rather skip over-the-counter medications altogether in favor of natural pain relief, here are a few great strategies to get you started.
- Eat fewer inflammatory foods: Avoid foods that cause inflammation, such as refined sugars, fried foods, processed meats, and refined grains.
- Try an anti-inflammatory diet: Eat more foods that reduce inflammation like whole, plant-based foods and healthy fats, while making sure to consume enough fruits and vegetables.
- Make lifestyle modifications: Certain lifestyle factors can contribute to inflammation, such as lack of exercise, chronic stress, poor sleep, and smoking. Get these factors under control.
- Take dietary supplements: Some supplements, like anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, can help lower inflammation in the body.
It can be difficult to know which anti-inflammatory supplements to go with. So here are three of the most research-backed products you can get for inflammation and pain relief.
Turmeric contains a bioactive compound called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Curcumin inhibits the activity of several inflammatory molecules in the body, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
- Learn More: 10 Best Turmeric Curcumin Supplements for 2023
Apple cider vinegar possesses anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce inflammation in the body. The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar has been found to decrease inflammation and oxidative stress.
- Learn More: 10 Best Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies for 2023
Elderberry contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce inflammation in the body. Specifically, elderberry contains anthocyanins, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.
- Learn More: 10 Best Sambucus Elderberry Gummies for 2023
Aspirin and NSAIDs: Final Thoughts
Is aspirin an anti-inflammatory? The answer is yes. Aspirin is a type of NSAID that has been used for many years to reduce inflammation, pain, and fever. It works by blocking COX enzymes, which produce chemicals that cause inflammation.
While aspirin has many benefits, it also has potential risks, including side effects and interactions with other medications. Therefore, it is important to use aspirin only as directed and to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new medications or supplements.