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* Gastrointestinal complaints (stomach upset, dyspepsia, heartburn, small blood loss). To help avoid these problems, it is recommended that aspirin be taken at or after meals. Undetected blood loss may lead to hypochromic anemia.
* Severe gastrointestinal complaints (gross bleeding and/or ulceration), requiring discontinuation and immediate treatment. Patients receiving high doses and/or long-term treatment should receive gastric protection with high-dosed antacids, ranitidine or omeprazole.
* Frequently, central effects (dizziness, tinnitus, hearing loss, vertigo, centrally mediated vision disturbances, and headaches). The higher the daily dose is, the more likely it is that central nervous system side-effects will occur.
* Sweating, seen with high doses, independent from antipyretic action
* Long-term treatment with high doses (arthritis and rheumatic fever): often increased liver enzymes without symptoms, rarely reversible liver damage. The potentially fatal Reye's syndrome may occur, if given to pediatric patients with fever and other signs of infections. The syndrome is due to fatty degeneration of liver cells. Up to 30 percent of those afflicted will eventually die. Prompt hospital treatment may be life-saving.
* Chronic nephritis with long-term use, usually if used in combination with certain other painkillers. This condition may lead to chronic renal failure.
* Prolonged and more severe bleeding after operations and post-traumatic for up to 10 days after the last aspirin dose. If one wishes to counteract the bleeding tendency, fresh thrombocyte concentrate will usually work.
* Skin reactions, angioedema, and bronchospasm have all been seen infrequently.
* Patients that have the genetic disease known as Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD) should avoid this drug as it is known to cause hemolytic anemia in large doses depending on the severity of the disease.
In 1971, the British pharmacologist, John Robert Vane, who was then employed by the Royal College of Surgeons in London, showed that aspirin had suppressed the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes. For this piece of research he was awarded both a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1982 and a knighthood.
Aspirin's ability to suppress the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes is due to its non-competitive and irreversible inhibition of the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme. Cyclooxygenase is required for prostaglandin and thromboxane synthesis. Aspirin acts as an acetylating agent where an acetyl group is covalently attached to a serine residue in the active site of the COX enzyme. This makes aspirin different from other NSAIDs (such as diclofenac and ibuprofen), which are reversible inhibitors.
Prostaglandins are local hormones (paracrine) produced in the body and have diverse effects in the body, including but not limited to transmission of pain information to the brain, modulation of the hypothalamic thermostat, and inflammation. Thromboxanes are responsible for the aggregation of platelets that form blood clots. Heart attacks are primarily caused by blood clots, and their reduction with the introduction of small amounts of aspirin has been seen to be an effective medical intervention. The side-effect of this is that the ability of the blood in general to clot is reduced, and excessive bleeding may result from the use of aspirin.
There are at least two different types of cyclooxygenase: COX-1 and COX-2. Aspirin irreversibly inhibits COX-1 and modifies the enzymatic activity of COX-2. Normally COX-2 produces prostanoids, most of which are pro-inflammatory. Aspirin-modified COX-2 produces lipoxins, most of which are anti-inflammatory. Newer NSAID drugs called COX-2 selective inhibitors have been developed that inhibit only COX-2, with the hope for reduction of gastrointestinal side-effects.
However, several of the new COX-2 selective inhibitors have been recently withdrawn, after evidence emerged that COX-2 inhibitors increase the risk of heart attack. It is proposed that endothelial cells lining the microvasculature in the body express COX-2, and, by selectively inhibiting COX-2, prostaglandins (specifically PGI2; prostacyclin) are downregulated with respect to thromboxane levels, as COX-1 in platelets is unaffected. Thus, the protective anti-coagulative effect of PGI2 is decreased, increasing the risk of thrombus and associated heart attacks and other circulatory problems. Since platelets have no DNA, they are unable to synthesize new COX once aspirin has irreversibly inhibited the enzyme, an important difference with reversible inhibitors.
Furthermore, aspirin has 2 additional modes of actions, contributing to its strong analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory properties:
* It uncouples oxidative phosphorylation in cartilaginous (and hepatic) mitochondria, by diffusing from the inner membrane space as a proton carrier back into the mitochondrial matrix, where it ionizes once again to release protons. In short, aspirin buffers and transports the protons. (Note: This effect in high doses of aspirin actually causes fever due to the heat released from the electron transport chain, instead of its normal antipyretic action.)
* It induces the formation of NO-radicals in the body that enable the white blood cells (leukocytes) to fight infections more effectively. This has been found recently by Dr. Derek W. Gilroy, winning Bayer's International Aspirin Award 2005.
More recent data suggest that salicylic acid and its derivatives will modulate NF?B signaling. NF?B is a transcription factor complex that plays a central role in many biological processes, including inflammation.
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