Aspirin for Pain Management

Aspirin is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, commonly used to treat both acute and chronic pain conditions. Aspirin is available in both over-the-counter and prescription strengths, and can control fevers, or is an antipyretic, as well as treat mild to moderate pain.

Aspirin tablets spilling from a bottle

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How Aspirin Works

Aspirin has long been thought to inhibit prostaglandins in the body, which can help relieve some types of pain. However, its mechanisms for reducing inflammation have not always been clear. Recent studies have been working to discover exactly how aspirin works to reduce swelling in the body.

How It Is Used

Aspirin is an NSAID, so it works both to decrease mild to moderate pain as well as swelling, either after an acute injury or in chronic inflammatory pain conditions. Aspirin may be useful in treating the following chronic pain conditions:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Migraines
  • Chronic muscle pains

Sometimes, aspirin is combined with other painkillers, such as oxycodone or codeine, to treat more severe forms of pain. Please note that opioids, or drugs such as oxycodone and codeine, have the potential for abuse and dependence and should be taken only under the strict supervision of your physician.

Aspirin Brand Names

Aspirin may also be known as:

  • Ascriptin
  • Bayer
  • Bufferin
  • Easprin
  • Ecotrin
  • Genacote
  • Halfprin
  • Magnaprin
  • Norwich
  • St. Joseph

Aspirin with acetaminophen may also be called:

  • Excedrin
  • Goody’s Headache Powder

Aspirin with opioids may be called:

  • Endodan
  • Percodan
  • Butalbital Compound
  • Synalgos-DC

Adverse Effects

Aspirin is a blood thinner, so it also can be taken to prevent certain types of coronary events, such as a heart attack. However, if you take aspirin regularly for pain, you should be aware that a cut might bleed for longer than normal. Aspirin also can cause nausea, stomach pain and even vomiting.

Serious adverse effects of aspirin that require immediate medical attention include the following:

  • Rash or hives
  • Facial swelling (such as in the lips or tongue)
  • Rapid breathing, or difficulty breathing
  • An unusually rapid heartbeat
  • Vomiting blood or a “coffee ground” substance
  • Ringing ears or difficulty hearing
  • Bloody or black bowel movements


You don’t commonly hear of an aspirin overdose, but it can happen. Some types of aspirin are formulated as time-release, and chewing this type of pill can release too much medication at once. Also, many over-the-counter products such as cold-relievers or antacids also contain aspirin. It is possible to take more aspirin than what is recommended without realizing it. Moreover, certain topical analgesics or pain relievers applied to the skin, like Aspercreme contain salicylate, which is the active ingredient in aspirin. Even these topical preparations can contribute to overdose. Signs of an aspirin overdose include difficulty breathing, high fever or seizures. If you notice these signs while you are taking aspirin, seek medical attention immediately.

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  • Medline Plus. Aspirin. 
  • Medline Plus. Aspirin Overdose. 
  • Paul-Clark Mark J., van Cao Thong, Moradi-Bidhendi Niloufar et al. 15-epi-lipoxin A4–mediated Induction of Nitric Oxide Explains How Aspirin Inhibits Acute Inflammation. Journal of Experimental Medicine. 2004 July 5; 200(1): pp69–78.

By Erica Jacques
Erica Jacques, OT, is a board-certified occupational therapist at a level one trauma center.