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Monday, February 18, 2013

Who Should (And Should Never) Take Aspirin

Packages of aspirin fill the shelves of a drugstore in Chicago in 2009. (M. Spencer Green/AP)

Packages of aspirin fill the shelves of a drugstore in Chicago in 2009. (M. Spencer Green/AP)

We’ve all heard that if you’re having a heart attack, you should take aspirin. But is it always appropriate to take aspirin for heart disease? And who should never take it?

Doctors do not recommend giving aspirin to children, and often suggest ibuprofen – for example Motrin or Advil – as an alternative.

But in rare cases, ibuprofen has been known to be toxic for children.

Last week a Massachusetts court awarded the Reckis family $63 million in a ruling against the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, for not adequately warning patients about a rare potential side effect from Children’s Motrin.

In the fall of 2003, Samantha Reckis was seven years old and her parents gave her Children’s Motrin to soothe a fever.

Over 24 hours, Samantha took three doses. She had a reaction that was diagnosed as toxic epidermal necrolysis – she suffered lung and liver damage, the loss of most of her skin and became legally blind.

Now 16 years old, Samantha has had nearly 40 surgeries – six of them on her brain.

The $63 million award must still be approved by a trial judge, but Johnson & Johnson issued a statement saying “Children’s Motrin, when used as directed, is a safe and effective treatment option for minor aches and pains and fever and we believe the medicine is labelled appropriately.”

Like ibuprofen, Aspirin is also a non-steroidial, anti-inflammatory compound,  but aspirin also works as an anticoagulant – a blood thinner – and is often prescribed to those with a history of heart disease or people who might be at risk for a stroke or heart attack.

Dr. Randall Stafford, director of Stanford’s Program on Prevention Outcomes and Practices, tells Here & Now’s Robin Young that there’s new research in the area of aspirin helping to prevent dementia and colon cancers.

“The evidence has been slowly accumulating,” Stafford said. “We’re getting close to the point where we might take those preventative abilities into consideration when we prescribe aspirin.”


  • Dr. Randall Stafford, director of the Program on Prevention Outcomes and Practices at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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