How Does Aspirin Kill Pain?

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Aspirin is a common pain reliever that has a wide variety of applications. Find out how Aspirin kills pain with help from a practicing pediatrician in this free video clip.

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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Dr. David Hill, and today we're going to be talking about how dies aspirin kill pain. Well, that is being a really complicated question. We're trying to keep the answer relatively simple. Aspirin is a common name for a drug known as acetyl salicylic acid or some people just call it salicylic acid and it's probably the oldest pain killer known to man. It comes from the bark of a tree and has been used since long before there were commercial pharmaceuticals to help with pain and fever. The primary mechanism of action that aspirin uses to kill pain is by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxegenase. Some people call this cox because it's a really long word. Cyclooxegenase comes in two flavors, cox 1 and cox 2; aspirin happens to inhibit both of these enzymes. Now, cox is an important enzyme for creating the sorts of chemicals that mediate pain and inflammation in the body. And so, by cutting down on the action of cox, aspirin will keep some of these other chemicals from being formed and causing pain and inflammation. There's also an effect that aspirin has on the nerves in the brain, where pain signals are transmitted and perceived. So, there's both an effect outside where the pain and inflammation is occurring and also on nerves in the brain and they work together to diminish pain. Now, aspirin also has some other effects, some of which can be desirable, others not. It can inhibit blood clotting through its acts on another enzyme called thromboxane. Thromboxane helps platelets get together and form blood clots and when aspirin poisons the thromboxane, those platelets are no longer very well able to make blood clots. We use aspirin for that in patients who've had heart attacks for example to keep them from getting new blood clots in their blood vessels and heart; however, there can also be dangers if a patient is about to have surgery or already has another bleeding disorder. Aspirin can also cause problems in the stomach. It can lead to stomach ulcers because some of the prostaglandins that mediate inflammation and pain in the body have close relatives that keep the stomach safe from the stomach inside of it. The aspirin can poison those chemicals as well and then high doses of aspirin taken with some frequency can lead to stomach ulcers or irritation called gastritis. There are dozens of other actions that aspirin has pharmacologically, I encourage you to read more about this if you're curious. But, the key thing to know is that aspirin both stops inflammation where it's occurring and stops nerves in the brain from carrying and perceiving pain signals. The last thing to know if you're talking about children, no child or young teenager should ever take aspirin unless prescribe for a specific condition like Coxsackie disease. Aspirin can rarely cause a deadly syndrome called Reye's syndrome in children. So, even though some aspirin maybe labeled children or babies aspirin, don't give it to kids or babies. It has a small but real risk of proven deadly. Talking about how aspirin kills pain, I'm Dr. David Hill.


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