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Is Aspirin a Good Option for Rheumatoid Arthritis Swelling and Pain?

Posted on March 29, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Andrew J. Funk, DC, DACNB

Aspirin is a medication that can help people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by alleviating pain and swelling in the body, especially in the joints. When taking aspirin, it is important to follow the directions from your doctor and on the medicine packaging.

Aspirin can help some people with RA manage their symptoms, but it can also cause dangerous side effects or interactions with other medications.

What Is Aspirin and How Does It Work?

Aspirin is a type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). NSAIDs reduce inflammation, lower pain, and improve function in people with long-term pain due to arthritis and other causes.

Aspirin was the first NSAID drug to be discovered. It belongs to a group of drugs called salicylates, which work by stopping your body from making substances that cause pain, swelling, blood clots, and fever.

Read now: For what RA stage is aspirin most effective?

Aspirin comes in either a prescription or nonprescription form. Doctors recommend the prescription form to lessen the symptoms of RA. People can also get the nonprescription — also known as over-the-counter (OTC) — version of aspirin to treat symptoms of RA and other types of arthritis.

Does Aspirin Work for Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms Like Swelling and Pain?

The Arthritis Society lists OTC aspirin as a medication that can lessen symptoms of RA.

To benefit from aspirin, you need to take several doses each day. That is why other, longer-lasting NSAID medications like naproxen (Aleve) have mostly replaced aspirin for the management of RA symptoms like swelling and pain.

If you are taking aspirin, either as a prescription or OTC, keep in mind that NSAIDs do not treat RA itself. They cannot slow the progression of the disease or prevent joint damage or disability. Only prescribed disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs can actually treat RA.

Who Should Take Aspirin and Who Should Avoid It?

Even though aspirin is typically safe for treating RA symptoms, not everyone with RA should take it. You should likely avoid taking aspirin — or only take it under the close supervision of your doctor — if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Heart disease, including heart failure
  • Problems with fluid buildup in the body
  • Ongoing ulcer(s)
  • Kidney problems

If you are currently pregnant or trying to become pregnant, check with your doctor before taking aspirin or any other medication for your RA.

The Cleveland Clinic also recommends that the following people check with their health care provider before taking aspirin:

  • Children and adolescents with a viral infection (taking aspirin can increase their risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare condition that affects the liver and brain)
  • People who have surgery scheduled in the near future, including dental surgery
  • People who drink at least three servings of alcohol each day
  • People with asthma that worsens when they take aspirin
  • People age 65 or older

Even if it’s safe for you to take aspirin for your RA, it might not be effective in treating your symptoms. Try aspirin for a minimum of two weeks to see if it significantly decreases your swelling and pain. If aspirin gives you no relief, you can try a different NSAID to manage your RA symptoms.

Are There Any Health Risks Linked to Aspirin Use?

Taking aspirin does carry some health risks.

In a large study of women without high blood pressure, researchers found that frequent use of aspirin — and all NSAIDs — increased the risk of developing high blood pressure after eight years of taking the medication.

Taking aspirin can increase your risk of developing kidney disease. One large study found that taking aspirin regularly increased the risk of kidney failure by 2.5 times compared with people who did not take aspirin.

Aspirin use can also increase the risk of stomach ulcers and bleeding in the bowels. These two side effects can happen without any warning signs. The risk for ulcers and bleeding is higher in people who:

  • Are older
  • Have a prior history of stomach ulcers or bowel bleeding
  • Also take blood thinner medication
  • Are taking several NSAIDs at once
  • Consume at least three servings of alcohol each day

Your risk for developing a serious condition from aspirin use increases the longer you are on aspirin and the more you take.

Are There Any Side Effects Associated With Taking Aspirin?

People who take aspirin can develop side effects, including:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain

Let your doctor or health care provider know if you notice any of these symptoms — especially if they are severe or if they do not stop on their own.

Taking aspirin can also cause serious side effects in some people. Seek medical help immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Swelling of your mouth, face, eyes, or throat
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fast breathing
  • Clammy, cold skin
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Hearing loss
  • Vomit with blood in it
  • Vomit that looks like coffee grounds
  • Stool with bright red blood in it
  • Stool that looks black or like tar

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myRAteam, the social network for people with rheumatoid arthritis and their loved ones, more than 182,900 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with rheumatoid arthritis.

Have you tried aspirin for your rheumatoid arthritis? If so, what was your experience? Share your story in the comments below or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Andrew J. Funk, DC, DACNB has held board certification in neurology with the American Chiropractic Neurology Board since 2015. Learn more about him here.

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