Drugs can be highly beneficial in daily lives as they can reduce acute pain. They can alleviate some of the symptoms of the problem just until the issue is resolved—for example, the over-the-counter (OTC) drug aspirin. Aspirin is an analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory agent that can help with bodily functions (Steiner & Voelker, 2009). It is an analgesic drug because of its ability to reduce pain.
Taking aspirin can help you persevere through that throbbing that doesn’t seem to want to leave you alone. Aspirin is also an antipyretic drug due to its fever-reducing property and as an anti-inflammatory drug that can reduce inflammation in the body. Aspirin is versatile, convenient, accessible and can be used within minutes.
Of all the abilities of aspirin, I will be focusing on its analgesic effects through this reading. So sit back, grab your popcorn and immerse.
To understand how aspirin can pain relieve headaches, let’s first make sure we grasp the concept of headaches. Headaches are the most common complaints expressed by outpatients and inpatients (May, 2018). According to The International Classification of Headache Disorders ( ICHD-3), headaches can be categorised into two main categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headaches are not linked to any other causes. In other words, they are not from underlying conditions, unlike secondary headaches. Secondary headaches are connected to other diseases (e.g., infection or toxicity). For example, if a patient suffers from a brain tumour or a stomach ulcer, they might experience headaches. This type of headache is known as a secondary headache.
The pain in these two types of headaches can range from dull to excruciating. In primary headaches, the cause of the pain can be as simple as area cells tightening and releasing chemicals to let the brain know that something is happening here. It can be even more complicated with secondary headaches as they arise from underlying conditions. I will be focusing on primary headaches.
You see, cells are malleable and can tighten, producing prostaglandin (lipid-compound) from arachidonic acid with the help of the enzyme cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) (Simon, 1999). The prostaglandin binds to the nerve endings in the cell area, causing an action potential to the brain. This action potential, or electrical firing, is registered in the brain as pain. Think of it like this. Your parent told you to take out the trash. You first have to place the garbage into a trash bag to organise it in the trash bin. In this case, the garbage is the state of the cell or area. Prostaglandin is the result of you packaging the trash into the trash bag. The enzyme Cyclooxygenase 2 converts the trash into the new and designed trash inside the trash bag. The trash bin is the brain registering the information. Additionally, this pain can be caused by muscular tension and strain. For example, when you notice that throbbing headache after waking from bed. You struggle to understand why you have a headache but later realise that your neck was placed in an uncomfortable direction when you were binge-watching that latest tv-show or comedy.
Aspirin is very versatile and helpful in reducing headaches (the painful sensation at least) of many things because it blocks and slows down the creation of prostaglandin by blocking and slowing down the activity of the enzyme cyclooxygenase 2. This results in a decreased level of prostaglandin, thus reducing the triggering of the nerve ending in sending messages to the brain.
With the benefits of aspirin’s ability to reduce pain, it is evident that aspirin can be effective when feeling subtle pains. In making the most of aspirin’s analgesic capabilities, it is also important to realise that the body is an incredible machine capable of persisting in various ways without a human intervention like drugs. Taking medications/drugs, especially for minor conditions, should be done in moderation. It also doesn’t hurt to strive through the pain when you know there is no underlying ailment, as seen in secondary headaches. So when you feel that throbbing headache or experience that acute pain, don’t just immediately reach for that medication on your counter but instead understand fully the when, why, or what about your pain.
Steiner, T. J., & Voelker, M. (2009). Gastrointestinal tolerability of aspirin and the choice of over‐the‐counter analgesia for short‐lasting acute pain. Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics, 34(2), 177-186.
McNeil, J. Anne (n.d.). Home⁄ faqs⁄ how does aspirin work? Cornell Center for Materials Research. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.ccmr.cornell.edu/faqs/how-does-aspirin-work/
May A. (2018). Hints on Diagnosing and Treating Headache. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 115(17), 299–308. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2018.0299
The International Classification of Headache Disorders – ICHD-3. ICHD. (2021, January 12). Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://ichd-3.org/
Rizzoli, P., & Mullally, W. J. (2018). Headache. The American Journal of Medicine, 131(1), 17–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2017.09.005
Simon L. S. (1999). Role and regulation of cyclooxygenase-2 during inflammation. The American journal of medicine, 106(5B), 37S–42S. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0002-9343(99)00115-1
Aspirin formula – TOPPR-guides. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.toppr.com/guides/chemistry-formulas/aspirin-formula/
Prince, C. (2021, June 11). Aspirin does not improve survival for hospitalised COVID-19 patients. Health Policy Watch. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://healthpolicy-watch.news/aspirin-does-not-improve-survival-for-hospitalised-covid-19-patients/
Atallah, A., Lecarpentier, E., Goffinet, F., Doret-Dion, M., Gaucherand, P., & Tsatsaris, V. (2017). Aspirin for prevention of preeclampsia. Drugs, 77(17), 1819–1831. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40265-017-0823-0
5 thoughts on “Aspirin: Paining Ache”
Something I found really fascinating about this post was the call to take drugs such as Aspirin in moderation, and first consider why you may feel the pain you do before immediately reaching for a couple tablets. I thought the brief mention of secondary headaches was also interesting as I never knew that was how physicians distinguished random headaches from headaches with an underlying cause. In terms of background information on headaches, I thought the information was sound and really appreciated the comparison to someone taking out the trash. Those analogies can be incredibly useful to someone who is less familiar with neurobiology and the intricacies of a particular topic. I would maybe suggest after the analogy going one step further in your explanation of why we experience headaches to really hammer home your main points. Overall, I thought this post was very informative. I also really liked the addition of images on the sides that you added. Finally, I would be curious to learn more about how Aspirin affects the brain compared to other pain-killers such as Advil. Do they help mitigate headaches in similar ways? What are the differences?
I enjoyed learning about the benefits of aspirin in reducing the pain of headaches. I thought the garbage bag analogy was very helpful in understanding how headaches cause us the pain we associate them with–especially for someone like me who is not the most comfortable with scientific explanations of brain activity. Although I’ve experienced pain and injury throughout my athletic career, I’ve never used aspirin and have always been told to use Advil (ibuprofen instead). After reading your post it made me curious to understand the difference(s) between Advil and Aspirin. Is Advil for more common pain whereas Aspirin is for headaches only? In what ways are their compositions different? Finally, I thought the post ended well with advising to be aware that although drugs like Aspirin an be beneficial to us, they should be used in moderation. It made me wonder what would happen if someone took too much Aspirin. Overall, it was a very insightful post!
Great blog post, man! To be honest, I did not know much about the aspects of Aspirin or even Tylenol before reading this post – but you have really opened my eyes. I like how you broke it down step by step and also cited chemical formulas and realistic applications. I had understood some about headaches from prior research, but I appreciate your analogies and think that it would be really intriguing to do a clinical study on similar topics. I would want to know more about the differences between advil and Tylenol and what they would do to alleviate headaches. Thanks !
This is really cool! I actually have migraines often (runs in the family) and constantly wonder how something you take by mouth can alleviate pain in your head and even other parts of the body. Aspirin and drugs are really interesting because they treat the symptoms rather than the problem causing the symptoms, which means it doesn’t usually matter why you have the headache. (hungry, stress, exhaustion, etc) You’ll still feel better after taking aspirin. Great work!
Great post Eniola. I have always wondered exactly how analgesics like aspirin work, but I’ve never been able to find an article that explains it as simply yet thoroughly as this one, so thank you! I also think it’s really cool how drugs like aspirin work at the cellular level- it doesn’t surprise me that they affect action potentials in the brain, and specifically decrease them. As I read this post, I began to wonder about the cellular process of becoming tolerant to aspirin, Tylenol, and ibuprofen. I had a friend in high school who would take up to 6 Tylenol every day for headaches, and eventually, it stopped working for her entirely. It would be fascinating to know if drug tolerance is caused by a change in the prostaglandin/cyclooxygenase 2 system, or if it has to do with a different process entirely.