Acetylsalicylic acid is toxic to humans

Aspirin: The Dangerous Side Effects

Status: 11/11/2011 6:03 p.m. | archive
Aspirin Proctect - one of many variants of the drug. The not harmless active ingredient acetylsalicylic acid is contained in all of them.

Aspirin Complex, Protect, Effect, Direkt, Caffeine, Plus C and Migraine - Aspirin seems to be available for almost every form of pain. It has been the best seller in pharmacies for over 100 years. Bayer produces five billion tablets annually for the international market at its Bitterfeld site. Around 40 million packs of aspirin are sold in Germany every year, and the number is rising. For the pharmaceutical company this meant huge sales of 776 million euros worldwide in 2010. Aspirin is considered to be the most successful drug on earth. The problem: What can be obtained without a prescription is considered safe for many people.

Aspirin - the panacea?

Painkillers: The 10-20 Rule

Painkillers should be used for a maximum of ten days per month. So twenty days a month should be free from taking them. With this rule, the tablets used on the ten days are not counted, but only the respective day, regardless of the amount taken.

As early as 1900, aspirin had established itself as a panacea for colds, tuberculosis, thrombosis, tonsillitis, headaches and, above all, rheumatism. However, it is less well known that taking acetylsalicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin and its many imitation products, can even be life-threatening. The advertising did a great job giving the impression that aspirin is as beneficial to health as a vitamin tablet. "For many of my patients, aspirin has the reputation of being a panacea," explains the Hamburg gastroenterologist Friedrich Hagenmüller. "Some don't even see aspirin as a drug, which has side effects, but rather as a helpful lifestyle support and a life extender in all situations, so to speak." This can easily lead to improper use of the preparation. And consumers generally do not read the package insert at all.

Stomach ulcers or kidney damage caused by ASA

Christa K. came to Professor Hagenmüller's clinic with a bleeding stomach ulcer. Until then, aspirin was a harmless home remedy for them.

Acetylsalicylic acid, or ASS for short, has a threefold effect: against pain, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory. But aspirin can also have serious side effects. It can cause ulcers and bleeding in the stomach or intestines because it attacks the lining of the digestive tract. The drug can also cause asthma attacks and kidney damage. Friedrich Hagenmüller estimates that the number of annual deaths in Germany in which aspirin is involved is in four digits: "You have to assume that the number of cases is between 1,000 and 5,000."

Underestimated danger: blood-thinning effect

Unlike other pain relievers, aspirin not only has an analgesic effect, it also thins the blood. This can already be problematic during a dental procedure. The blood-thinning effect of aspirin was discovered because patients continued to bleed after tonsil operations. Even today, aspirin is a problem before surgery. For this reason, aspirin should not be taken five days before surgery, because the blood-thinning effect of a tablet of aspirin lasts long after it has been taken. In the case of certain diseases such as heart attacks or strokes, however, it is precisely this blood-thinning side effect that is desirable and thus aspirin may help a second career.

Some doctors are critical of ASA as a pain reliever

In the opinion of many doctors, however, drugs containing acetylsalicylic acid have had their day as pain relievers. "You don't actually need aspirin to treat pain. It has its blessings and good effects in other areas, but as a pain reliever it is actually dispensable, so we have better means," says Friedrich Hagenmüller. Uwe Gessner, a research associate at Bayer's subsidiary Bayer Vital, sees things differently, of course: "Aspirin is a drug that has been on the market for over 110 years. It has been extremely well researched. There is hardly a drug that has been better researched and is being researched In my opinion, it will also be a drug in the future that will be used against pain and fever and inflammation ".

The attempt to reduce the size of packaging failed

Too many people take pain medication too often.

8.3 million Germans regularly take headache tablets. In order to at least limit the risk of people carelessly handling aspirin and other ASA products, pharmacologists and pharmacists believe that access to larger quantities of painkillers should be made more difficult. A first step in this direction would have been to reduce the size of the packs, as proposed by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Products (BfArM) in September. "The aim is that over-the-counter painkillers can only be used in patients for up to four days. And that if they are used for more than four days, a doctor must be consulted in any case," said Maik Pommer, press spokesman for the BfArM. Not only acetylsalicylic acid were up for discussion, but also the over-the-counter pain relievers iboprofen, diclofenac, paracetamol and naproxen and the less well-known agents phenazone and propyphenazone.

However, in order to obtain a corresponding legislative initiative from the responsible Federal Ministry of Health, the "Committee of Experts for Prescription Requirements" must make a recommendation. Surprisingly, however, the Committee of Experts rejected the BfArM's proposal at the end of September. Formal and legal reasons have led to this. Because with the new regulation, larger packaging of all painkillers, including aspirin, would have become a prescription.

Information for patients

Patients need to be protected

"The implementation of this application would have been a very good way towards consumer protection, risk awareness among consumers and overall risk minimization", says Professor Hartmut Göbel. The medical director of the Kiel Pain Clinic deals with people who suffer from the consequences of careless use of painkillers. Better education and more difficult access to painkillers are necessary, also to protect patients from improper use of the drugs. Because pain relievers are highly effective drugs. And they also have serious side effects.

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