Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), is a medication, often used to treat pain, fever, and inflammation. Aspirin is also used long-term, at low doses, to help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and blood clot formation in people at high risk of developing blood clots. Low doses of aspirin may be given immediately after a heart attack to prevent clotting and reduce the risk of another heart attack or the death of heart tissue. Aspirin may be effective at preventing certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.
The main side effects of aspirin are gastric ulcers, stomach bleeding, and ringing in the ears, especially with higher doses. While daily aspirin can help prevent a clot-related stroke, it may increase risk of a bleeding stroke (hemorrhagic stroke). In children and adolescents, aspirin is not recommended for flu-like symptoms or viral illnesses, because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.
Aspirin is part of a group of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but differs from most other NSAIDs in the mechanism of action. The salicylates have similar effects (antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic) to the other NSAIDs and inhibit the same enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX), but aspirin does so in an irreversible manner and, unlike others, affects the COX-1 variant more than the COX-2 variant of the enzyme. Aspirin also has an antiplatelet effect by stopping the binding together of platelets.
The therapeutic properties of willow tree bark have been known for at least 2,400 years, with Hippocrates prescribing it for headaches. Salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin, was first isolated from the bark of the willow tree in 1763 by Edward Stone of Wadham College, University of Oxford. Felix Hoffmann, a chemist at Bayer, is credited with the synthesis of aspirin in 1897, though whether this was of his own initiative or under the direction of Arthur Eichengrün is controversial. Aspirin is one of the most widely used medications in the world with an estimated 40,000 tonnes of it being consumed each year. In countries where "Aspirin" is a registered trademark owned by Bayer, the generic term is acetylsalicylic acid (ASA). It is on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, the most important medications needed in a basic health system. As of 2015 the cost for a typical month of medication in the United States is less than US$25.
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