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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

People’s Pharmacy: Aspirin acts like a migraine miracle

 (The Spokesman-Review)
By Joe Graedon, M.S., and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. King Features Syndicate

Q. I use Bayer aspirin for my migraines and have since I was 20. I am now 76. At first, I had one a year, then more often, and now I get two a month.

At the first sight of flickering in my vision (aura), I take aspirin and get in the dark or put on dark sunglasses. In 15 minutes, the aura is gone. If I don’t get to it in time, I have a migraine headache all day. For me, simple aspirin seems like a miracle.

A. Thanks for sharing your story. As many as one third of people with migraine headaches experience an aura before the headache begins. This may appear as sparks of light, wavering lines, blind spots or other changes in vision.

Taking aspirin at the first sign of visual changes can sometimes keep the headache from developing (Revue Neurologique, September 2021). The Food and Drug Administration has even approved the combination of aspirin (250 milligrams), acetaminophen (250 milligrams) and caffeine (65 millgrams) for migraine relief. This is the formula found in Excedrin.

Not everyone who suffers from migraines gets the kind of relief that you describe from aspirin. There are now many new migraine medicines to prevent or treat the pain. You can learn more about them in our “eGuide to Headaches & Migraines.” This online resource is available under the Health eGuides tab at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Q. I have been using a statin drug to lower my cholesterol for years. In a recent article, you wrote about a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). That study was limited to HIV-positive people with a median age of 50. The trial was stopped early for efficacy, indicating that pitavastatin (Livalo) was beneficial for that population.

Other, larger studies have shown that statins can help prevent major adverse cardiovascular events (MACEs). The NEJM study only lasted five years; a 50-year-old person could live for 50 more years with plaques accumulating in their arteries and increasing their risk of a MACE. Someone reading your article might conclude that statins have very little benefit and then go on to suffer a MACE! Hopefully they will talk to their doctor and learn that statins do work.

A. Statins clearly lower cholesterol. No one disputes that. They also reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and stents, especially in people who have diagnosed heart disease. This is called secondary prevention, and we fully support this use of statins.

The benefits of statins for primary prevention are less striking. These are people who have not had heart attacks or other cardiovascular complications. In the study you cited, the investigators calculated that if 105 people took a statin for five years, one would avoid MACE (New England Journal of Medicine, Aug 24, 2023). People considering a statin for primary prevention should discuss the benefits and risks with their physicians.

Q. I recently saw a TV commercial for an over-the-counter product to remove skin tags. What can you tell me about it?

A. Skin tags are benign growths (acrochordon) that often appear on the neck, underarms, groin or eyelids. They are not dangerous.

We suspect that the product you saw might have involved “cryotherapy” (freezing). Dermatologists use this approach for removing skin tags. They may also cut them off or use an electric needle to burn off the fleshy growths. For at-home use, caution is advised, as very cold temperatures will destroy tissue.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”