salicylate (səlĭsˈəlātˌ) [key], any of a group of analgesics, or painkilling drugs, that are derivatives of salicylic acid. The best known is acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. Now often made synthetically, they were originally derived from salicin, the active ingredient in willow bark, used for centuries in the treatment of pain and fever. Salicylates also occur naturally in many plants used as foods (e.g., strawberries, almonds, tomatoes). Methyl salicylate is the main component of wintergreen, sweet birch, gautheria, and betula oils; the compound is used in rubbing liniments to soothe muscular aches and as a flavoring. Sodium salicylate, traditionally used in the treatment of arthritis, is also used in dyes and as a nonedible preservative.
In general, salicylates, especially aspirin, are used medically to reduce fever and inflammation and to relieve headache, menstrual pain, and pain in nerves, muscles, and joints. Because of the effects of salicylates on blood platelets and clotting, aspirin is often prescribed prophylactically for those at risk of stroke or heart attack. Salicylates are useful, relatively safe drugs, but normal doses can cause gastrointestinal disturbances in sensitive patients and large doses can be toxic or fatal, especially to children.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.