Aspirin: How does it work

00:00 Mon 05th Mar 2001 |

by Lisa Cardy

RILEY posted a question asking how aspirin works. To save you all from the headache of working it out, here's an article on the subject.

What is aspirin used for

Mainly headaches. It can also be used for inflammation of the joints, fever and heart attack prevention.

What is aspirin

Aspirin is a member of a family of chemicals called salicylates.

When was aspirin discovered

The medicinal properties of the salicylates have been known about for centuries. Way back in the fifth century BC, Hippocrates, one of the first and most influential physicians, wrote about a bitter powder extracted from willow bark that could ease aches and pains. That powder was salicin.

Eventually, in 1899, a scientist named Dreser, gave the treatment the name aspirin.

Where does the word aspirin come from

It is believed the name comes from a plant relative of a rose that also makes salicylic acid.

What causes pain

No one really understands how it works. Basically pain is something that your brain registers. At the site of the pain originating, for example in your toe, when you stub it against a door, chemicals, prostglandins, are released using an enzyme called cyclooxygenase 2. Prostglandins are integral in you registering pain.

How does aspirin work

Aspirin stops cells from making prostaglandins by sticking to cyclooxygenase 2, preventing it doing its job. This means that when you take aspirin for pain relief, you don't stop what's causing the pain, but rather interfere with the signals that your nerves send to your brain.

How does aspirin find the site of pain

It doesn't, when you take aspirin, it dissolves in your stomach and is absorbed by your whole body via the bloodstream. Although it's everywhere, it only works where there are prostaglandins being made, which includes the area where it hurts.

Are there any unwanted side effects to taking aspirin

Yes, because aspirin travels through the bloodstream to all parts of the body, it also stops prostaglandins from working where they are needed.

Prostaglandins help keep the stomach lining thick. But aspirin interferes in this process and the lining thins, allowing acids to irritate the stomach. The upsetting effects of aspirin on the stomach are well known.

What else can aspirin be used for other than headaches

Some types of prostaglandins cause tiny particles in your blood, platelets, to stick together to form a blood clot. Aspirin can be used to slow clot production down in patients at risk from heart attacks, which occur when blood vessels become clogged.

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