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.
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