Greetings all you medical types....

Would anyone be able to give me a description (or failing that, a good on-line reference) as to how common painkillers actually work.

What exactly do they do to the body/brain?


its very technical and im afraid that i cant tell you because you wouldnt understand the big words.

( might help)
BFG, If you're still interested here is some stuff on Painkillers. I have kept it to the basics but am happy to expand if you need more info.


Inflammation is the body's 'defence mechanism' against injury of any kind eg infection, allergic reaction, trauma etc. There are a number of things that occur when the inflammatory response is triggered and one of these is pain. This is due to the stimulation of pain nerves by a number of natural chemicals that are released as a result of trauma/infection etc.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

These have the capacity to dampen down the symptoms associated with acute inflammation (local heat, redness and swelling). They include Non- Steroidal Ant-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), certain steroids and other more 'specialist' types of drugs that influence an underlying disease process. I'll just cover the NSAIDs here.


eg Aspirin (Disprin)
Ibuprofen (Brufen, Nurofen, Cuprofen)
Diclofenac (Voltarol, Diclomax)

In simple terms a) Infection/trauma occurs
b) Chemical A is released
c) This interacts with an enzyme (cyclo-oxygenase)
d) This interaction results in the release of a series of chemicals (Let's call them 'B-G etc')
e) These chemicals cause the processes associated with inflammation including pain.

The NSAIDS block the enzyme and so stop the release of the chemicals B-G, consequently reducing pain. The trouble is - that some of these chemicals are quite useful in their own right. Two are particularly important. One that protects the lining of the stomach and the second that keeps the airways open in the event of an asthma attack. Because NSAIDS block them, the drugs are not usually recommended in patients with stomach ulcers or asthmatics.

Aspirin has an additional effect as it also reduces blood clotting

Side effects of NSAIDs are largely due to the effects of blocking production of the chemicals B-G.


This works in a different way but last time I looked there was no definite 'method of action' although a few theories. In essence it has a central effect, that is it works more directly at the brain level, and damps down the pain. This central effect goes some way to explaining the effect it has at reducing temperatures in fevers etc.

Let me know if you want more detail on anything or if you need more info on other types of drugs.

Thanks Jez,

That's just what I was looking for.

It also explains why I've often been prescribed Zantac & Ibuprofen together.


BFG everything that comes over the counter from a pharmacy should have a petient infromation leaflet with it. If not sure about any drugs ask the perscribing doctor and you can also ask the pharmacist.
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