How Does Aspirin Relieve Headaches?


History of Aspirin

Aspirin is made from salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is found in the white willow plant, which has been used throughout the ages by folk healers to reduce pain, swelling and fever. Scientists studied the chemical reactions of salicylic acid for many years before producing aspirin as we know it today.

Causes of Headaches

When you have a headache, you most likely will take an over the counter pain medication. Aspirin is an ideal drug because it eliminates pain through the suppression of chemical processes within the body. Headaches are caused by a variety of reasons including environmental factors, food allergies and stress. The pain can occur anywhere around and inside of your head. Some people suffer from severe forms of headaches called migraines.

Biology of a Headache

The pain of a headache stems from nerves running over the scalp, as well as nerves in the face. Most of these nerves run directly from the brain to the head, simply because of their close location. Pain receptors lie within each nerve. The receptors act as channels that carry pain messages from the nerve to your brain. When the brain receives a pain message, it registers this. That is how you perceive pain in your body, and in this case, as a headache.


The central nervous system produces chemicals--prostaglandins--in response to certain stimuli. These chemicals fight infection and trauma to the body. Prostaglandins are unsaturated, fatty acids that, as they work, create the symptoms of pain and inflammation.

COX-2 Enzymes

All cells contain enzymes. Enzymes are catalysts that help to produce chemical reactions. COX-2 enzymes are an important part of the immune response. The reaction of a COX-2 enzyme causes its host cell to secrete messages. These messages prompt the central nervous system to produce prostaglandins. Prostaglandins, in turn, cause the symptom of pain.

How Aspirin Works

Aspirin inhibits prostaglandin production by inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme. Aspirin molecules attach themselves to COX-2 enzymes. This binding action blocks the enzyme from creating chemical reactions. When no chemical reactions are produced, messages cannot be transmitted along the neuropathways that ask for the prostaglandin production. With the action of prostaglandin in check, your pain is either completely relieved or greatly reduced.

Aspirin Dosages

Dosages of aspirin vary according to the amount of pain you are feeling. Typically, a normal dose is 324 mg every four hours. For a strong headache, you can take up to 648 mg of aspirin every four hours without any ill effects. It is recommended that you not exceed 48 tablets in a twenty-four hour period. Women in their third trimester of pregnancy are advised to seek other pain treatment as aspirin can affect the developing fetus. Children under the age of twelve should consult a physician before taking aspirin. If you are recovering from the flu or chicken pox, it is not recommended that you ingest aspirin.

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