TED Gives A Really Simple Explanation Of How Pain Relievers Work


Photo: TEDEducation

Everyone feels pain.  But thanks to modern medicine, we can be relieved, at least temporarily, from aches, burns and other sources of discomfort.  

George Zaidan explains how common pain relievers like Aspirin and Ibuprofen work to make us feel better in this animated TEDeducation video, which we’ve broken into slides.   

First, your body must feel pain. This could be from a prick of a needle, a kick in the shin or a burn from a frying pain.

When your body is damaged, cells release a chemical called prostaglandin.

The chemical is detected by nerve cells called nociceptors, which are located throughout your body in the skin, muscles, tendons, joints and some internal organs.

The nerve cells then send signals to the brain telling your body to feel pain.

Here's where pain relievers like Aspirin and Ibuprofen enter the picture. These medicines work by preventing cells from releasing prostaglandin, which means your brain doesn't get the message to feel pain as quickly.

So how does that work? Well, prostaglandin is actually created from a chemical called arachidonic acid (released when you body is hurt). Arachidonic acid is converted into prostaglandin by two enzymes called COX-1 and COX-2.

The enzymes have a place called the active site, which is where reactions happen.

In the absence of pain relievers, the active site fits arachidonic acid perfectly.

Aspirin works by entering the active site, breaking off (leaving behind that tip shown in the graphic), and making it impossible for the arachidonic acid to fit. This deactivates COX-1 and COX-2.

Ibuprofen, also known as Advil or Motrin, works similarly, by entering the active site and blocking the enzyme.

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