By Gabe Mirkin, M.D., for CBS Radio News

Report #6700
20th January, 1996

For more than three hundred years, doctors have been telling patients to take two aspirin and see them in the morning. This may not be as safe as it sounds as several recent studies show that aspirin may prevent healing of arthritic joints and broken bones/ and cause flesh-eating bacteria infections and toxic shock syndromes.

When you break a bone, cells produce large amounts of chemicals called prostaglandins that cause pain. Aspirin-like pills help to reduce pain by blocking prostaglandins that cause pain, but they are also the first stage of tissue repair. A study in The Journal of Orthopedic Trauma shows that aspirin markedly delayed healing of broken bones (1). A study in the Journal of Rheumatology shows that aspirin increases the rate of cartilaginous breakdown in arthritic joints, presumably by the same mechanism of blocking prostaglandins. (2)

Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets died from a toxic shock syndrome associated with taking aspirin when he had a strep infection. (3) When you are infected, white blood cells called macrophages produce a chemical called tumor necrosis factor. They travel to your brain and cause your body to produce prostaglandins, which raise temperature and shut off tumor necrosis factor. Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs block the production of prostaglandins/, causing the white blood cells to keep on producing tumor necrosis factor, which allows bacteria to spread through the body and cause shock and death. Uncontrolled production of tumor necrosis factor, in the presence of staph or strep germs, dissolves muscles and skin to cause the "flesh- eating bacteria" syndrome that can lead to amputations. (4,5,6).


1) RD Altman, LL Latta, R Keer, K Renfree, FJ Hornicek, K Banovac. Effect of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs on fracture healing: A laboratory study in rats. Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma 9: 5 (1995):392-400.

2) EC Huskisson, H Berry, P Gishen, RW Jubb, J Whitehead. Effects of antiinflammatory drugs on the progression of osteoarthritis of the knee. Journal of Rheumatology 22: 10 (OCT 1995):1941-1946. Conclusion. Indomethacin increased the rate of radiological deterioration of joint space in patients with OA of the knee; tiaprofenic acid did not.

3) DL Stevens. Could nonsteroidal antiinflammatory agents (NSAIDs) enhance the progression of bacterial infections to toxic shock syndrome? Clinical Infectious Diseases 21: 4 (OCT 1995):977-980.

4) Science News October 7, 1995.

5) CO Brantigan, J Senkowsky. Group A beta hemolytic streptococcal necrotizing fascitis. Wounds - A Compendium of Clinical Research and Practice 7: 2 (MAR-APR 1995):62-68.

6) New Zealand Medical Journal March, 1995.

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