Harvard Men's Health Watch

Aspirin for hypertension?

Research chemists and pharmacologists spend long hours in their laboratories developing new medications to treat disease. Clinical investigators and practitioners are responsible for testing new products and using them wisely. But doctors are also pleased to find new uses for established medications. Often, these discoveries begin when an alert physician notices that a drug he's prescribed for one purpose produces unexpected benefits for an entirely different condition that also troubles his patients. Such chance observations have led to important therapies, but many others have fizzled, so all must be tested with the same care given to new medications.

Beta blockers are good examples of medications with multiple uses. Introduced in the 1960s to treat angina and hypertension, they are used for a wide array of problems, from some abnormal heart rhythms and congestive heart failure to migraine headaches, stage fright, and certain tremors.

Aspirin and its friends

Aspirin was synthesized in 1897 and registered for use in Germany two years later. About 50,000 tons are produced worldwide each year. It's not surprising that this long-established, widely used medication has found many uses; the list includes fever, headaches, arthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders, rheumatic fever and other inflammatory disorders, and pain of many types. Aspirin has also assumed a critical role in treating and preventing heart attacks and certain strokes, and there are substantial hints it may reduce the risk of certain cancers.

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