Does 2020 make you want to take an aspirin? Well, a study just published the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia is suggesting that taking low-dose aspirin could potentially, possibly, maybe have a benefit when it comes to Covid-19 coronavirus infections. But before you begin popping aspirin to protect yourself, hold on, in the words of Wilson Phillips.
Led by Jonathan H. Chow, MD, an Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the study looked at 412 patients hospitalized with Covid-19. About a quarter (23.7%) of these patients had received aspirin in the time period that ran from seven days prior to their admission to 24 hours after their admission to the hospital. The research team found that those who had received aspirin during this time period ended up being 43% less likely to have been admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), 44% less likely to have been placed on mechanical ventilation, and 47% less likely to have died in the hospital. That sounds good because getting admitted to the ICU and placed on a ventilator are not good things to have happen.
Keep in mind the various limitations of this study, though. All such a study can do is show associations or correlations and not establish cause-and effect relationships. Remember correlation does not mean causation. Repeat correlation does not mean causation. For example, the rise of the Kardashians during the 2010’s has correlated with a rise in the stock market. So has the rise in “ugly shoes.” Does this mean that either have been responsible for what’s happened with the stock market? Does this mean that Kim Kardashian in Crocs will be the key if you are an investor? Not necessarily, unless that happens to be your thing. Just because two things happened at once, doesn’t mean that one caused the other.
It could be that those who were taking aspirin were already taking better care of their health in other ways or regularly seeing doctors. Maybe they had more financial means or were less likely to have been exposed to large doses of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Or the results from the study could have been pure chance.
That being said, there are reasons why aspirin could be helpful when you have more severe Covid-19. Although the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV2) can initially infect your respiratory tract, it can trigger a cascade of different problems in your body. As far as SARS-CoV2 is concerned, your immune system is like the 40-year-old virgin or however old it may be. It’s never seen the virus before and therefore doesn’t know what to do. It can overreact, mobilizing cells and releasing chemicals that can lead to “premature inflammation.” These chemicals and cells can lead platelets sticking together and blood clots forming.
This is where aspirin, otherwise known as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) if you want to use more syllables and vowels, can help. ASA can do the opposite: decrease inflammation, platelet stickiness, and blood clotting. These are the reasons why doctors have recommended that heart attack survivors take aspirin every day to prevent another heart attack. Additionally, laboratory studies have suggested that aspirin may actually have some anti-viral activity. ASA could damage DNA and RNA viruses, including different human coronaviruses. Of course, what happens in the lab may stay in the lab. Such laboratory studies have not proven that aspirin has antiviral activity in people. Don’t start taking aspirin just because you think it can kill the Covid-19 coronavirus.
Plus, aspirin is, in the words of Britney Spears, not that innocent. Don’t treat aspirin as you would trail mix. There are real risk of taking too much aspirin, such as bleeding, stomach problems, and allergic reactions. Kids may be more susceptible to liver and brain damage when they get something called Reye’s syndrome. So before you start regularly taking aspirin for any reason, check with your doctor.
While the results from this study are encouraging, don’t go aspiring aspirin to be the magical miracle treatment for Covid-19. Taking aspirin won’t allow you to skip all those things that you should be doing to prevent the transmission and spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus such as social distancing and wearing face masks. Yes, it is tough to alter your life in such manners. Yes, hugging a loaf of bread is not the same as hugging other people, even it is really good sourdough. Yes, all of this and 2020 are a headache. But aspirin won’t be enough to make it all go away.