In the last 30 years medicines prescribed by doctors have changed beyond all recognition. Our better knowledge of the nature of diseases and their management has led to the replacement of many old remedies by new ones specifically designed for each illness.
The change has been dramatic. Common conditions such as peptic ulcer, asthma, high blood pressure, infections and arthritis are much better treated, with higher cure rates and longer survival. We now have the first effective anti-viral drugs, and many types of cancer, that were untreatable only a few years ago, are now brought under control.
Yet it would be a mistake to assume that, to keep up with modern medicines, doctors have always had to turn to new drugs. One drug - very old in terms of our current prescription lists - has continued to flourish, and has even expanded its uses. It is highly effective, has a very good safety record, and is, after almost a hundred years, still the most trusted home remedy for pain, worldwide. It is also very cheap. It is aspirin.
Everyone has known for years that aspirin is a fast and reliable painkiller that also reduces inflammation and cools fevers. More recently it has become just as well known as a help to people with heart complaints such as angina, coronary thrombosis and after coronary bypass surgery. It is becoming better known, too, in prevention of stroke. Among other diseases in which active research about aspirin is showing great promise - and in which it is now being increasingly used - are toxaemia of pregnancy, diabetes, bowel cancer and dementia.
How such an old drug can turn out to be so useful in so many crucial diseases makes a fascinating story. Astonishing advances in medical care need not depend entirely on the invention and introduction of new medicines!