Harvard Health Letter

Can aspirin do that, too?

Pain relief? Check. Cardiovascular disease prevention? Check. Protection against cancer? To be decided.

Bayer first started selling aspirin as a pain and fever reliever over 100 years ago. Now we've got a slew of other choices, including over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, other brands), and naproxen (Aleve), so aspirin for pain relief seems out of date. Children don't grow up taking aspirin like they used to, because it has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal childhood condition that involves swelling of the liver and brain. And there's no doubt aspirin can be hard on the stomach; it can lead to ulcers if it's taken often.

Even so, its value as a pain reliever is underestimated these days, and in many cases aspirin could be used instead of medications that are more expensive, more heavily marketed, and often both. For example, there was a report in April 2010 that fairly large doses (900 to 1,000 milligrams) of aspirin are just as effective at stopping migraine attacks as sumatriptan (Imitrex), the popular brand-name migraine drug.

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