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What Is Salsalate?

By Melanie Smeltzer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Salsalate is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) prescribed to help treat inflammation, pain, joint stiffness, and fever. This medication is most commonly given to those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, but may also be prescribed for the treatment of bursitis and tendinitis. Belonging to a class of drugs known as salicylates, this drug works by inhibiting the production and release of certain chemicals that trigger inflammation in the body.

Prostaglandins are naturally occurring chemicals that the body creates as a response to trauma. When released, these chemicals can affect smooth muscle contractions and body temperature, and can cause inflammation in certain tissues. Salsalate works by inhibiting an enzyme, known as cyclooxygenase, which produces and releases the prostaglandins into the system. The result of this is a lower concentration of prostaglandins in the body, which can lead to a decrease of inflammation, fever, and pain.

Like other acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) medications, salsalate is converted into salicylic acid in the body. It is thought to be as effective in reducing pain and inflammation as other ASA drugs; however, it is said to cause fewer complications for those who experience minor stomach bleeding or upset, as it has less of an effect on blood clotting. In addition, it is often used as an alternative to narcotic pain relievers for those who suffer from spine-related conditions.

Although many who take salsalate will experience few or no side effects, others may develop some complications. Some of the most common side effects can include feelings of dizziness or ringing in the ears, upset stomach, or diarrhea. Severe reactions can include shortness of breath or difficulty swallowing, rash, or a swelling of the face, throat, or extremities. If any of the more severe reactions occur, patients are advised to seek medical attention immediately.

In addition to side effects, salsalate may also negatively interact with other types of medication. For instance, this drug should not be taken with other ASAs, as the combination may cause salicylic acid toxicity, which can result in drowsiness, rapid breathing, severe gastrointestinal upsets, and headache. This drug may cause an increase of lithium and aminoglycosides in the blood, or decrease the effects of certain blood pressure medications. Additionally, this drug is said to interfere with some laboratory tests, which may result in a false reading. Patients are advised to tell their doctors that they are taking this drug prior to any medical testing.

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