A Medication for the Ages

If you want to improve learning it helps to engage the reader, so I thought that I would make this entry a quiz. I am going to give everyone some facts about a common medication and see if the readers can guess what it is.
This medication had its beginning at least 2000 years ago in Greece as a powder made from the bark and leaves of the willow tree. This powder was used to treat pain, headache and fever. It contained a compound that modern pharmaceutical companies have improved. In the present form it has been used consistently for over 100 years and is one of the most common medications in the world with an estimated 40,000 tons used each year.
Here are a couple of other facts. In 1971 a British scientist won the noble prize for discovering in greater detail how this common medication works. We now know that this medication is one of our most effective and dependable treatments for pain and fever and in addition in small amounts can also prevent some strokes and heart attacks, and even some miscarriages. More recent evidence suggests it may prevent as many as 50% of certain cancers.
It has been referred to as a miracle drug but we still need to keep in mind that no treatment is risk free. There are always both risks and benefits to consider with any treatment. Common side effects of this drug include a small risk of intestinal bleeding and even bleeding from tiny vessels in the brain, especially in elderly patients. A few patients with asthma may notice their asthma is worse when they take this medication, some may develop hives. If too much of this medication is taken you will note ringing in the ears. 20-30 years ago the public health service noted that the use of this medication by children and adolescents with certain illnesses like influenza and chickenpox was associated with a life threatening but rare illness called Reyes syndrome. For this reason today it is not recommended for fever in this age group, so closely related medications are used instead.
Overall when used correctly this medication has been far more beneficial than harmful. It is one of the most useful medications available and it doesn’t require a prescription. So what is this ancient medication derived from the willow tree that helps relieve pain and fever, prevents some strokes and heart attacks and possibly some cancers, but like all drugs has some risks to consider before using….its aspirin.
And a final comment, the decision to take aspirin to prevent strokes, heart attacks and certain cancers should be discussed with a physician keeping in mind your individual circumstances such as the risk of these problems and your other health issues or medications.

This is Dr Thad Woodard. Have a good day.


Dr Woodard is a physician and owner at Alaska Center for Pediatrics