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What is Analgesia? - Definition & Types

Instructor: Heather Pier

Heather has taught high school and college science courses, and has a master's degree in geography-climatology.

Learn about the group of medications known as analgesics, and how they improve your daily life. Explore the different groups of analgesics and how they are used.

Defining Analgesia

The next time you have a headache or sprain your ankle, your first line of treatment will probably be to accomplish a state of analgesia, or pain relief. The easiest way to relieve your pain is through the use of analgesics, a medication used specifically to treat pain.

Even before the advent of modern medications and drug therapies, natural analgesics like peppermint and capsaicin were used for centuries to treat aches and pains.

How Do Analgesics Work?

All analgesics work to ease your pain, but how? In order to dull your pain, you have to dull your pain receptors. Your body's pain receptors are located within various parts of your nervous system, which makes sense since your body's nerves are generally what detects pain.

They don't permanently relieve your pain- only complete healing of the illness or injury can do that- but they do offer relief from the constant pain that comes with having various health problems.

Unlike anesthetics, which remove all sensation and are used during surgeries and major medical procedures, analgesics only dull pain sensation. Depending on the cause and location of the pain, analgesics may be taken internally as pills, intravenously, or may be applied topically.

Analgesics can be administered in many different ways, including via syringe.

Major Types of Analgesics

Analgesics can be classified based on what their main task is. The most well-known group of analgesics are the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly referred to as NSAIDs. Many over the counter pain medications are NSAIDs, including aspirin and acetaminophen.

As their name suggests, NSAIDs are not steroids, and are used as anti-inflammatories. They are used to reduce inflammation from everything from arthritis to post-surgical pain. Of all of the types of analgesics, these are the ones you most likely have used at some point in your life.

The next group of analgesics are COX-2 inhibitors. COX-2 inhibitors are similar in some ways to NSAIDs, but typically carry a decreased bleeding and hemorrhaging risk than NSAIDs.

Unfortunately, after years of use, it was discovered that the COX-2 cure may actually have been worse than the original disease being treated. They were a great innovation in analgesic treatments, however most were found to cause significant cardiovascular side effects and have since been taken off the market.

The most addictive group of analgesics are opioids. Opioids, such as codeine and morphine, are highly effective painkillers, however their side effects are more dangerous and include long-term addiction to their main ingredient, opium.

Opioids like morphine are highly effective analgesics but can be highly addictive.

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