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What is aspirin?

Aspirin is a member of a class of drugs known as the NSAIDs. It is primarily used as an analgesic to treat mild to moderate pain. In addition to being used for the treatment of pain, aspirin is also used for its antiplatelet effects. Aspirin has the effect of thinning blood through its inhibition of thromboxane which is a key agent in the formation of blood clots. Aspirin is also known by its common name of acetylsalicylic acid. Due to its relatively cheap cost and wide variety of uses aspirin is one of the most consumed drugs worldwide.

Is aspirin an NSAID?

A common question about Aspirin is whether or not it is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). While aspirin is an NSAID its mechanism of action is different than other drugs which belong to this class of medications. NSAID stands for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. NSAIDs are preferred to other pain medications due to their ability to relieve pain with minimal side effects. NSAIDs also pose the advantage of being non-habit forming and are therefore recommended to be used before proceeding to more potent pain management medications. Aspirin like other NSAIDs works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins which are in turn responsible for pain and swelling in muscle tissue and tendons.

Mechanism of action – how does aspirin work?

Aspirin works mainly through its action on prostaglandins and thromboxane. This mechanism of action was not discovered until 1973, more than two hundred years after its initial discovery. Aspirin achieves its effects through blocking the production of both thromboxane and prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormones which are responsible for causing swelling as well as communicating feelings of pain to the central nervous system. With the production of prostaglandins reduced the amount of pain sent to the brain is less. Thromboxane is a hormone which is integral to the formation of blood clots. With its being inhibited by aspirin the blood becomes thinner and less likely to clot. Due to its action on thromboxane aspirin is very useful in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes.


Aspirin is primarily used as an analgesic in pain management. It is effective in treating mild to moderate pain levels. Aspirin is often thought of as inferior to other newer pain medications due to the fact that it is more likely to cause unpleasant gastrointestinal effects. When used for the purpose of treating pain aspirin is often administered along with caffeine due to the synergistic effects observed from this combination. Aspirin can also be used for the treatment of headaches. It however should not be used for headaches which are attributed to other injuries or medical circumstances. Aspirin is also often recommended for the treatment of fevers. Caution should be exercised when giving children and adolescents aspirin as these age groups are capable of producing a rare medical condition known as Reye's Syndrome. Though it is not common Reye's syndrome has the ability to be fatal. Low doses of aspirin are also administered daily to those at risk for heart attacks or strokes. Aspirins ability to lower blood viscosity makes it very effective at reducing the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke for those who are at risk.

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