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Aspirin, NSAID, Coxib and PPI


Clinical bottom line

Using aspirin, NSAIDs, coxibs and PPIs for treating daily pain and protecting against vascular and gastrointestinal events is a tricky business. But help is at hand from some thoughtful and intelligent use of evidence.


C Baigent, C Patrono. Selective cyclooxygenase 2 inhibitors, aspirin, and cardiovascular disease. Arthritis & Rheumatism 2003 48: 12-20.

RH Hunt et al. Recommendations for the appropriate use of anti-inflammatory drugs in the era of the coxibs: defining the role of gastroprotective agents. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology 2002 16: 231-240.


The problem is that people with arthritis who need NSAIDs or coxibs for their everyday pain are usually older, and may also have cardiovascular risk factors that may require prophylactic low dose aspirin to minimise the possibility of heart attack or stroke.

Complicating factors include:

Baigent & Patrono review the available information and suggest a strategy for analgesic or anti-inflammatory treatment and cardiovascular prevention in patients with inflammatory disease and different levels of risk for vascular events and gastrointestinal complications (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Suggested strategy

In this strategy they suggest low risk (less than 0.2% per year) is found in individuals aged below 50 years, and risks above 0.5% a year in those aged 80 years or more. A vascular event is defined as fatal or nonfatal heart attack or stroke.

In patients with lower risk of gastrointestinal complications, the strategy may be influenced by whether aspirin is coadministered. Conventional NSAIDs may interfere with aspirin's antithrombotic efficacy, making a coxib the rational choice with aspirin. Always, to minimise gastrointestinal toxicity, the lowest effective dose of NSAID or coxib should be used, as well as the lowest effective dose of aspirin, which they advise as 75-100 mg daily).

Hunt and colleagues address the appropriate use of gastroprotective agents in people who need to take an NSAID or coxib. Their recommendations are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Recommendations for individuals needing gastroprotective therapy

Risk level


Recommended treatment

New patient
High risk Previous upper GI bleeding
Coxib plus GPA
Age 75 or more
Concomitant steroid or anticoagulant
Two or more other risk factors
Intermediate risk One risk factor
Coxib alone
No upper GI bleeding
Age 60-75 years
Low risk No risk factors
NSAID or coxib alone, discuss with patient
Previously treated patient
Previous ulcer disease Coxib, eradication of H pylori if present
Prior complication Coxib plus GPA, eradication of H pylori if present
Dyspepsia Mild or intermittent H2A or PPI
Moderate or nonresponding PPI
Current therapy of NSAID plus GPA Re-evaluate as for new patient


Both of these papers spend time reviewing the evidence, and each has to be read. This is becoming a complicated business, but gradually less so. Better treatment of pain, and prophylaxis against vascular and gastrointestinal events all seem to be possible with as little thought.