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.
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.
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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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
Your risk for developing a serious condition from aspirin use increases the longer you are on aspirin and the more you take.
People who take aspirin can develop side effects, including:
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:
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.
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