Journal of Health and Medicine

Aspirin: The Wonder Drug for Pain Relief


Some doctors now believe that aspirin can be used to treat many disorders, even heart disease. They say it could be medicine’s most important drug.

Simple, old-fashioned aspirin, much maligned, much abused, and certainly over-used, may be heading for unprecedented medical stardom in the 1980s. Indeed, some doctors predict it may become the most important drug ever used.

Aspirin has been around for many decades, and several commercial enterprises have made many millions of dollars through its use and promotion.

Without doubt it is the most commonly self-prescribed drug around. Some time ago, Lancet, the British medical magazine, reported results of a public survey which indicated that during the week preceding the survey, three people in 10 had taken aspirin. In 80 percent of cases, it had been self prescribed.

Aspirin has its good and bad points. Over-use and indiscreet swigging are certainly bad. Unfortunately, Australia seems to head the list in the per capita consumption of aspirin and that’s probably why so many kidney transplants are carried out. Continual over-use can destroy the delicate filtering mechanism of the renal system. The term “analgesic nephropathy” is well-known in medical circles and its discovery is attributed to Australian researchers.

A fairly significant percentage of kidney transplants (which are carried out for chronic kidney failure) occur in patients who have damaged their kidneys through the excessive use of analgesics, including aspirin. In terms of medical bills and money and time lost from industry, the costs are astronomical.

For many years it has been used mainly as a painkiller, and for relieving pain from any source it has no peer. When used sensibly, in small amounts for a limited time, it rapidly lessens pain.

Nearly any kind of pain will respond. Ideally, aspirin should be taken after food to lessen the risk of irritating the sensitive stomach lining. Irritation, to the point of ulceration (which may cause serious bleeding, more probably in children under the age of five years) can occur.

But in the past few years, aspirin has been used increasingly. It seems to possess properties which were not understood before.

It is widely used as an anti-inflammatory drug and may effectively reduce swollen, painful joints, the hallmark of the arthritic. Many doctors claim it is still the most effective and safest drug and despite the proliferation of newer anti-inflammatory drugs, it is their number one choice.

Aspirin is a Prostaglandin inhibitor also – it prevents the formation of the hormone Prostaglandin. It causes all manner of symptoms, from bowel spasms (diarrhea and other symptoms), to period pain in women. It is produced in many organs, and even migraine is now claimed by some to be the effect of Prostaglandin acting on the blood vessels of the brain.

So aspirin is being prescribed with considerable effect for an increasing number of disorders which are believed to be caused by this hormone. A simple application is with dysmenorrhea (period pain). For many years, women have been taking aspirin to lessen period pain. The pain-killing effect is good, but unknown to them they were also taking a Prostaglandin inhibitor, and so were getting a double barreled benefit.

Certainly, there are many other Prostaglandin inhibitors around and many of these are the very drugs used by arthritics to relieve joint pain. But aspirin is well up on the list.

Aspirin can often reduce simple headaches and in turn this lessens muscle spasm, a common cause of many headaches. If spasms occur in the head muscles they rapidly tire, and pain sets in. Aspirin is a quick, simple and effective remedy.

In migraine, a special kind of headache where the discomfort can be excruciating, doctors have found aspirin to be effective if it can be absorbed by the system. Some doctors have discovered that the valve leading from the stomach to the duodenum (the next part of the intestine) clamps shut during a migraine attack. This means food stays in the stomach and often vomiting occurs.

But by giving an injection of metoclopramide the valve is relaxed and the stomach contents pass through to the small intestine where they are quickly absorbed. Often two aspirin will then be adequate to stop a migraine. This works by neutralizing the Prostaglandins, the doctors claim.

Each year an enormous number of people die from heart disease. In the United States the figure is about 610,000, and the Western world in general has an alarming death-rate. Now it’s been discovered that aspirin might help check heart attacks or help prevent a recurrence.

Aspirin has the capacity to reduce the way in which platelets, a tiny factor in the blood, clump together. When masses of platelets stick together, they help clotting, and it’s a clot which jams up a blood vessel in the heart causing a heart attack.

By “thinning out the blood,” to put it simply, aspirin may eventually have an important part to play in heart medicine. An enormous amount of research is currently being carried out.

Of course, by thinning out the blood, other important events can transpire, and these are not necessarily good ones. It means that bleeding may be more common among those who take too much aspirin. Among other things it can cause bleeding from ulcers and period bleeding which is much heavier than normal and which can produce anemia. Too much blood loss can lead to fatigue, exhaustion and infections.

Aspirin is a valuable drug but should be used only if and when it’s necessary. However, don’t be surprised if your doctor happens to prescribe it for an ailment you thought warranted something more special.

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