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You can't buy good health but you can buy good health information. Check out these newly released Special Health Reports from Harvard Medical School:

Gastrointestinal bleeding from coated aspirin

Some people take aspirin without ever having a problem with their stomach. Others develop low-grade stomach pain or get an ulcer. A few develop gastrointestinal bleeding severe enough to require a transfusion. But coated or buffered aspirin doesn’t do much to help, according to a four-page special report on aspirin in the August 2007 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.

Coated aspirin, also called enteric-coated aspirin, is the pharmaceutical industry’s attempt to limit the drug’s effect on the stomach. It’s a great idea: Cover aspirin with a coating designed to withstand stomach acids so it sails through the stomach untouched and dissolves in the more neutral small intestine. Keeping aspirin intact for as long as possible might mean it won’t damage the lining of the stomach. Yet studies show that coated aspirin has virtually the same effect on the stomach as plain, uncoated aspirin.

The Harvard Heart Letter notes that aspirin doesn’t have to be in contact with stomach cells to harm them. Even when the pill dissolves in the intestines, the medicine gets into the bloodstream and is carried to all parts of the body—including the cells lining the stomach. Once there, it blocks the COX-1 enzyme. Stomach cells need COX-1 in order to churn out compounds that protect them from the powerful acids that digest food.

Of course, we’re all different, and coated aspirin may work for some people. But be advised that coating doesn’t guarantee problem-free aspirin use.

Also in this issue of the Harvard Heart Letter

  • Outlook on diabetes drug less than rosy
  • Aspirin: A user's guide to who needs it and how much to take
  • Heart Beat: Longer workouts better for boosting good cholesterol
  • Heart Beat: Pacemakers, iPods out of sync
  • Heart Beat: Talking it up: speech and atrial fibrillation
  • In Brief
  • Correction and Clarification
  • Ask the doctor: Are Lipitor and Crestor equally good for me?
  • Ask the doctor: Do beta blockers and ACE inhibitors help or harm the heart?
  • Calculating your heart attack risk

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.