Sunday, January 23, 2011

How Does Aspirin Kill Pain?

Sometimes an aspirin is a godsend – when we get a headache, or we get a back ache, and we can't think through the mire of pain or enjoy our usual activities. After quickly swallowing one or two tablets after a while we find ourselves experiencing less pain and even swelling. So how does this miracle pill work? And what is it we're actually popping into our mouths every time pain sets in?

What Is Aspirin?

Aspirin is a derivative of something called salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is chemical that is found in the white willow plant, and that has been used for many hundreds of years. Before 'modern' medicine, the bark was used by locals in order to reduce fever and swelling. Aspiring then is a synthetic version of that chemical that is mass produced for wider consumption. This then not only kills pain, but also lessens swelling which it achieves through thinning blood by reducing the production of thromboxane – an agent that causes platelets in the blood stick together. This then means that it can also reduce the chances of heart attack and stroke and can be used by those with high blood pressure, and can also help arthritis and gout due to the anti-inflammatory effects.

How it Works

As mentioned the blood thinning properties are achieved through the reduced production of thromboxane. The pain relief meanwhile however is the result of lower prostaglandins production – caused by the aspirin restraining the function of the COX-2 enzyme which is crucial for the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are an unsaturated fatty acid secreted by cells in the immune response. These are what cause pain and inflammation around wounds in order to highlight areas of injury. The production of prostaglandins (by the hypothalamus) actually increases body temperature and so aspirin can also be useful for combating fevers.

Side Effects

It is worth noting however that there are some negative effects associated with the use of aspirin. These include the fact that some prostaglandins are necessary for regulating stomach acid – meaning that aspirin can sometimes cause irritation of the stomach lining and is not suitable for indigestion and heart burn. Likewise the thinning of the blood, though useful in most cases, can sometimes be a bad thing for those with dangerously low blood pressure or conditions such as haemophilia where the blood has difficulty clotting to seal wounds. It should not be used before surgery either for this same reason as it can encourage prolonged bleeding.

Source: Health Guidance By George Cranston

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