Background information on Acetylsalicylic Acid (Aspirin)
Aspirin is a trade name for acetylsalicylic acid, a common analgesic.
It works by
reducing substances in the body that cause pain, fever, and inflammation.
Aspirin is used to treat
mild to moderate pain, and also to reduce fever or inflammation.
Acetylsalicylic acid is an acetic
acid ester derivative of salicylic acid.
The compound from which the active ingredient in aspirin
was first derived, salicylic acid, was found in the bark of a willow tree in 1763 by Reverend
Edmund Stone of Chipping-Norton, England.
The bark from the willow tree contains high levels
of salicin, the glycoside of salicylic acid. The earliest known uses of the drug can be traced back
to the Greek physician Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C.
He used willow leaves for the same
purpose—to reduce fever and relieve the aches of a variety of illnesses.
Salicin, the parent of the salicylate drug family, was successfully isolated in 1829 from
willow bark. Sodium salicylate, a predecessor to aspirin, was developed along with salicylic acid
in 1875 as a pain reliever. Sodium salicylate was not often popular though, as it has a habit of
irritating the stomach. However, in 1897, a man named Felix Hoffman changed the face of
medicine forever. Hoffman was a German chemist working for Bayer. He had been using the
common pain reliever of the time, sodium salicylate, to treat his father's arthritis. The sodium
salicylate caused his father the same stomach trouble it caused other people, so Felix decided to
try a less acidic formula. His work led to the synthesization of acetylsalicylic acid, or ASA.
This soon became the pain killer of choice for physicians around the globe.
sometimes Hoffmann is improperly given credit for the discovery of aspirin, he did understand
that aspirin was an effective pain reliever that did not have the side effects of salicylic acid (it
burned throats and upset stomachs).
Scientists never really understood the inner workings of the
drug however. It wasn't until the 1970's, when British pharmacologist John Vane, Ph.D. began
work on aspirin that people began to understand how aspirin really works. Vane and his
colleagues found that aspirin inhibited the release of a hormone like substance called
prostaglandin. This chemical regulates certain body functions, such as blood vessel elasticity and
changing the functions of blood platelets. Thus can aspirin affect blood clotting and ease
Aspirin is the most widely used over-the-counter drug in the world. The average tablet
contains about 325 milligrams of acetylsalicylic acid with an inert binding material such as
starch. Under the trade name, Aspirin and Bayer Aspirin have now enjoyed a safe and effective
use for 100 years, initially as a pain reliever, fever reducer, and anti-inflammatory agent.