A comparison of salicylic acid levels in normal subjects after rectal versus oral dosing

Acad Emerg Med. 2009 Feb;16(2):157-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00318.x. Epub 2008 Dec 6.


Objectives: The common practice is to use 162 mg of aspirin orally in the emergency department (ED) for patients presenting with myocardial infarction. If the patient cannot take aspirin orally in the authors' facility, then 600 mg of aspirin is given rectally. However, no strong evidence exists as to whether the oral and rectal doses provide equivalent risk protection. The authors hypothesized that the salicylic acid levels for orally and rectally administered aspirin will not be similar, because of the different dosages used and the different routes of administration.

Methods: The study sample consisted of healthy, nonpregnant, adult volunteers without active illness, who did not take any medication regularly. Each subject served as his or her own control to account for any confounding factors. The study was conducted on 2 days, separated by a 1-week washout period. On the first day, 162 mg of oral aspirin was chewed and swallowed. Salicylic acid levels were obtained at baseline (i.e., before taking the aspirin) and then 30, 60, and 90 minutes after dosing. The 600-mg aspirin suppository was self-administered 1 week later with a sample for laboratory measures again drawn at baseline and then 30, 60, and 90 minutes after dosing.

Results: Twenty-four subjects completed the study. The rectal suppository provided significantly more salicylic acid into the blood than the oral tablets over 90 minutes (p < 0.001). No statistical difference was noted between oral and rectal administration from baseline to 30 minutes (p > 0.05). However, mean salicylic acid levels from the rectal suppository were statistically higher than from the oral tablets from 30 to 60 minutes (p < 0.001) and from 60 to 90 minutes (p = 0.002). More than 60% of the subjects had an increasing salicylic acid level response over time to the rectal suppository. The salicylic acid level response to the oral administration was more evenly divided between those subjects whose salicylic acid levels peaked quickly and then fell or held steady (33%), those whose salicylic acid levels increased over time (29%), and those whose salicylic acid levels were measureable only after 60 minutes (25%). Although not statistically significant, these differences in group distributions for the type of salicylic acid level response between oral and rectal doses suggested the possibility of a rectal advantage.

Conclusions: Whether the higher salicylic acid levels and faster absorption of the rectal aspirin translate into better clinical outcomes is unknown and cannot be concluded from our study. Previous evidence, however, has shown that 162 mg of aspirin chewed and swallowed provided lower mortality in patients presenting with myocardial infarction. Our results suggested the rectal administration of a 600-mg suppository provides sufficient levels of salicylic acid within 90 minutes to meet or exceed that of oral aspirin.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Administration, Rectal
  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / administration & dosage*
  • Aspirin / administration & dosage*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Salicylic Acid / blood
  • Salicylic Acid / pharmacokinetics*
  • Suppositories


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Suppositories
  • Salicylic Acid
  • Aspirin