What is Aspirin? - Definition, Uses & Types

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson is going to describe what aspirin is and the different medical uses for aspirin. We will also discuss the main types of aspirin and how they are taken.


You are worried sick as your mom is being rushed to the hospital. She is having pain in her chest and left arm. It almost seems like a forgone conclusion that she is having a heart attack. The paramedics get her into the ER, and upon the ER doctor's first assessment it appears that your suspicion is correct. She is having a heart attack. All you want is the doctor to do something to save her life.

Aspirin is used in medical emergencies
Picture of aspirin

The doctor immediately gives your mom aspirin. Huh? Your mom's life lies in the balance and the doctor gave her some aspirin? Yep! Aspirin is a salicylate medication that works as an anti-inflammatory and anti-pyretic agent and as a pain reliever. Now what does all of that mean, right? An anti-inflammatory agent is anything that prevents or reverses the inflammatory response of our immune system. An antipyretic is a medication that reduces fever. Aspirin is also categorized as an antiplatelet medication, which means that it prevents platelets from coming together to form blood clots.


Let's start with the use at the beginning of this lesson. Aspirin is often used to treat a person that is experiencing chest pain or a heart attack and those suffering from a stroke. The anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin work to reduce inflammation, or swelling, in the blood vessels, which may allow blood to more easily flow through the blood vessels. Also, the anti-inflammatory agents in aspirin prevent blood clotting factors from coming together and therefore prevents blood clot formation. This is very effective since blood clots are the normal cause of heart attacks and strokes.

It was mentioned earlier that aspirin is an anti-inflammatory medication. It is actually classified as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). This lets you know that unlike some other anti-inflammatory medications, this one isn't composed of steroids.

Aspirin helps to reduce inflammation from injuries
Picture of an inflamed foot

Aspirin may be used to treat inflammation that occurs due to injuries or certain diseases, such as osteoarthritis and broken bones. Aspirin will help to reduce the flow of cells and proteins that are responsible for causing an inflammatory response in the body.

Aspirin's antipyretic properties make it a great choice for reducing fever. Fevers are often associated with the onset of illness and infections in the body. While a fever is one way that our bodies try to fight off invaders, a fever that gets too high can be just as deadly to us as it is to anything invading our bodies. Aspirin can help to keep the fever within a reasonable range so that it doesn't become deadly.


Over-the-Counter Aspirin Types

Aspirin comes in more forms that you probably ever knew. Let's start with the ones you are likely familiar with. The first type is the over-the-counter, low-dose aspirin, commonly called baby aspirin. This is the one commonly used for patients that need to be on a daily aspirin regimen. It is only about 75-81 mg. There are other strengths of aspirin, up to 500 mg, that are available without a prescription.

These come in enteric-coated tablets, which means they are designed with a coating that prevents them from breaking down until they get to the intestines. This helps to reduce the stomach pain and bleeding that is often associated with taking aspirin. Enteric-coated aspirin are also sometimes called delayed release since the medicine isn't released until it gets to the intestine, which is some time after taking it.

There is a chewable form of low-dose aspirin too. This is easier for some people to take, especially children. A chewable tablet can be take whole, chewed, or crushed and dissolved before ingestion.

Aspirin is also available in a powder or effervescent tablet form that can be dissolved in water. All of the water must be consumed in order to get the full dose of aspirin.

There are two other ways to administer aspirin, but they are not as common. There is an aspirin gum available. You heard it right. So if you like gum and need aspirin, you can get them both at the same time.

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