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November 8, 1993

A Reevaluation of Aspirin Therapy in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, Stanford (Calif) University School of Medicine.

Arch Intern Med. 1993;153(21):2465-2471. doi:10.1001/archinte.1993.00410210093010

Background:  Aspirin therapy has been largely superseded by prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) therapy in rheumatoid arthritis, in part because of premarketing studies suggesting lesser toxic effects for NSAIDs than for aspirin. This study evaluates these toxic effects in a postmarketing population of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Methods:  We studied 1521 consecutive courses of aspirin and 4860 courses of NSAIDs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis from eight Arthritis, Rheumatism, and Aging Medical Information System Post-marketing Surveillance Centers. Toxicity index scores were generated from symptoms, laboratory abnormalities, and hospitalizations, weighted for variable severity and severity of side effect.

Results:  The toxicity index was only 1.37 (SE=0.10) for aspirin and 1.87 to 2.90 for selected nonsalicylate NSAIDs. These differences were consistent across centers and remained after statistical adjustment for differing patient characteristics. There was a different toxicity with different aspirin preparations, with a score for plain aspirin of 1.36 (SE=0.23), for buffered aspirin of 1.10 (0.20), and for enteric-coated aspirin preparations of 0.92 (0.14). Most important, there were strong dose effects, with a score of 0.73 (0.09) for 651 to 2600 mg daily, 1.08 (0.17) for 2601 to 3900 mg, and 1.91 (0.38) for more than 3900 mg. The average aspirin dose taken was only 2665 mg/d, approximately eight "tablets," compared with 3600 to 4800 mg/d used in the 16 pivotal premarketing studies reviewed. Average NSAID doses were, on the other hand, lower in premarketing trials (eg, naproxen 500 mg/d vs 773 mg/d in the Arthritis, Rheumatism, and Aging Medical System clinical practices).

Conclusions:  Aspirin therapy, in doses commonly employed in practice, has an excellent safety profile in rheumatoid arthritis, and it is the least costly NSAID. The safety advantage is explained primarily by a dose effect and secondarily by possible differences between formulations. Newer management strategies for rheumatoid arthritis emphasize NSAID use as symptomatic therapy and use of diseasemodifying anti-rheumatic drug therapy for antiinflammatory objectives. Thus, the original recommendation for "anti-inflammatory" doses of aspirin now is less easily justified. Aspirin therapy merits reconsideration as adjunctive therapy for the management of rheumatoid arthritis.(Arch Intern Med. 1993;153:2465-2471)