How Do Pain Killers Work

How Do Pain Killers Work

It is particularly common in the head, body, and joints: pain.  But where does pain come from and how do pain relievers work? In response to a trauma, a person only feels pain once the affected cells have reacted to it and have started transmitting pain messages like this.  The cell membranes immediately release fatty acids, shown here as long red chains.  The fatty acids enter an enzyme, cyclooxygenase, anchored in the cell membrane.  This enzyme now functions as a kind of catalyst.  The fatty acids arriving at the enzyme are transformed and come out again as pain messenger substances, shown here as a yellow cone.

These messenger substances are an exact fit for pain receptors on the nerve endings.  There, they die and the stimulation thus caused is sent on as an electrical signal to the brain via the nerve fibers.  The brain receives the information and evaluates it.  Only then does the person feel pain.  Ouch! The entire complex process takes place in a split second.  Now, we come to pain relievers.  They interrupt the transfer of information.  The active ingredient in aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, affects an important interface in the process.

Specifically, the point where the pain messenger substances are created - in the cyclooxygenase.  The active ingredient simply blocks access to this enzyme.  As a result, fatty acids can neither find their way into the catalyst nor are they transformed into the pain messenger substance.  Less and less pain messenger substance is transmitted.  When fewer and fewer pain messenger substances dock, the nerve endings send correspondingly fewer impulses to the brain.  The result: the pain abates.  A simple principle with a great effect.  The active ingredient in aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, eases pain quickly and effectively.  Whether in the head, body or joints.

Pain is a distressing feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli.  Because it is a complex, subjective phenomenon, defining pain has been a challenge.  The International Association for the Study of Pain 's widely used definition states: Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.  In medical diagnosis, pain is regarded as a symptom of an underlying condition.  Pain motivates the individual to withdraw from damaging situations, to protect a damaged body part while it heals, and to avoid similar experiences in the future.  Most pain resolves once the noxious stimulus is removed and the body has healed, but it may persist despite the removal of the stimulus and apparent healing of the body.  Sometimes pain arises in the absence of any detectable stimulus, damage or disease.  Pain is the most common reason for physician consultation in most developed countries.  It is a major symptom in many medical conditions and can interfere with a person's quality of life and general functioning.  Simple pain medications are useful in 20% to 70% of cases.  Psychological factors such as social support, hypnotic suggestion, excitement, or distraction can significantly affect pain's intensity or unpleasantness.  In some arguments put forth in physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia debates, pain has been used as an argument to permit people who are terminally ill to end their lives.