Research changes understanding of how aspirin relieves pain

September 01, 1992|By New York Times News Service

A new study shows that aspirin relieves pain in part by blocking communication between certain nerves in the spinal cord.

The finding overturns the 20-year-old understanding that the most commonly used pain remedy works only at the place of injury rather than through the central nervous system.

Dr. Tony Yaksh, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of California at San Diego who is the main author of the study in the current issue of the journal Science, said his results were a step toward a more comprehensive view of the mechanics of pain.

This research is part of a quest to increase the potency of less harmful, pain-relieving non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin.

The goal is to administer these drugs in a more effective way, rather than to increase dosages. The study found that injecting aspirin directly into the spinal column increased the potency 100 500 times, as compared with taking the same dose by mouth.

Aspirin interferes with transmission between specific nerve fibers that cause hyperalgesia or amplified, lingering after-pain that results from injury, the researcher said. Injected into the spinal column before surgery, aspirin prevents hyperalgesia.

But it is unlikely that aspirin will find wide use before surgery until questions about its interference with blood clotting are investigated more fully, Dr. Yaksh said. Nevertheless, the discovery of aspirin's effect on spinal cord activity raises hopes that there may be better methods of administering aspirin to control pain.

"Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs don't produce physical dependence or addictions or other side effects," said Dr. Kathleen Foley, a neurologist who specializes in the treatment of pain at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. "So if we can make them more potent and effective, that would be important."

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