When You Take Too Much Aspirin, This Is What Happens To You

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By Zrinka Peters/Sept. 2, 2021 2:09 pm EDT

Aspirin has been around for so long and is so common that practically everyone has a bottle of it somewhere at home. And most of us wouldn’t think twice about popping a pill or two if we have a fever or headache. But as harmless as it might seem, it is definitely possible to overdose on aspirin, and the results can be fatal.

Aspirin is a medicine synthesized from salicylic acid, which is a compound found in willow bark, per Healthline. It’s a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which is usually used to help reduce fever and pain. It’s also commonly prescribed by doctors as a blood thinner. Aspirin comes in three “strengths:” 81 mg (sometimes called “baby” aspirin, though it should not be given to infants), 325 mg (regular), and 500 mg (extra strength).

Aspirin overdose can be acute if too much is taken at one time, or it can be chronic, gradually building up in the body over a longer period, according to MedLinePlus. In either case, per Healthline, an overdose occurs when your kidneys and liver can’t filter the aspirin out properly, and so it accumulates in toxic levels. While mild toxicity can happen in healthy people with a dose of as little as 300 milligram per kilogram of body weight, for those with preexisting conditions — especially those involving the kidneys or liver — it can take much less.

This is what happens during an aspirin overdose

When an overdose of aspirin happens, symptoms can include respiratory problems like wheezing and difficulty breathing, blurred vision, skin rash, nervous system problems like confusion, headache, or seizures, and gastro-intestinal (GI) problems like diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain or bleeding, as noted by MedLinePlus.

Although doctors have routinely prescribed a daily aspirin to help prevent heart attacks, this approach is changing, according to AARP. One study of 19,000 people over age 70 found that taking an aspirin daily actually did nothing to prevent heart attacks and strokes. It did, however, increase the risk of GI bleeding by a shocking 38%. Leslie Cho, section head for preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic, told AARP, “The trials that established aspirin for primary prevention were done way before we had high-potent medications to help lower cholesterol, like statins. Now, newer research shows that the risks for most people probably outweigh the benefits.”

With these facts in mind, it’s best to consult a doctor if you’re ever concerned about how much aspirin you’re taking. 

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