How Does Aspirin Work? - Overview & Mechanism of Action

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

Most people have heard that aspirin can reduce the risk of a heart attack, but how does it do that, and what else can it do? In this lesson, we will learn about the benefits of aspirin and how it works.


Aspirin was discovered in 1897 and is a versatile medication that can be found at almost any store. It is referred to as a wonder drug because it can treat over 50 conditions. It demands so much interest that over 3,500 articles are written about aspirin every year.


Not only is aspirin taken orally to treat mild pain, but it is also proven to help reduce the risk of a heart attack or colon cancer if taken daily. In addition, aspirin can also be used topically to reduce the swelling of bug bites, or it can be used in a face mask to improve your complexion. It even has benefits not related to health needs. Aspirin can be added to the water of a vase of flowers to help the flowers last longer. If you have light colored hair that is affected when you go swimming in a pool, you can use aspirin in your hair to counteract the chlorine's effects! There was even a time when aspirin was used as currency in South America during a time of overinflation!

Who knew a single pill had so much value? So, what is aspirin and how does it work?

Mechanism of Action

The main ingredient in aspirin comes from plant extracts. In the 1800s, a chemist made a form of this compound called acetylsalicylic acid. Aspirin is classified as a salicylic, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, also referred to as an NSAID. NSAIDs treat pain, fever, and reduce inflammation. It does this by stopping the substances in the body that cause pain, fever, or inflammation.

Aspirin also thins the blood to help prevent clots. The body's ability to form a clot can be a lifesaving mechanism. Platelets are in the blood and help to form a clot if you cut your finger, for example. This type of clot is beneficial, but sometimes clots forming in the body can be life threatening. For varying reasons, a clot can form and may travel to the heart causing a heart attack or travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Aspirin may be advised to help prevent these events from occurring. It does this by preventing platelets from clumping together to form a clot, therefore reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

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