Acetaminophen is one of the utmost used pain relievers in the world. It is the active ingredient in common over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol and Midol.
Acetaminophen known also as paracetamol is also present in medicines that treat several symptoms, such as over-the-counter products for colds, flu, and allergies.
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE ACETAMINOPHEN?
Acetaminophen mainly works to relieve pain and reduce fever. You take acetaminophen when you have such symptoms as headaches, muscle aches, and toothaches.
It is an effective pain reliever for menstrual cramps, minor arthritis pain, and aches from a cold or the flu.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACETAMINOPHEN AND OTHER PAIN RELIEVERS?
Though acetaminophen works well at relieving pain and reducing fever, it is not an anti-inflammatory.
This means that it does not reduce inflammation and swelling, nor does it help with the type of inflammation associated with rheumatic disease.
Pain relievers like ibuprofen and aspirin are anti-inflammatories and are better choices when you have a muscle strain, arthritis, or other condition which causes inflammation.
Aspirin and ibuprofen can irritate the stomach, but acetaminophen usually does not.
For this reason, acetaminophen is preferred over aspirin or ibuprofen if you have stomach issues when you take one of these analgesics (substances that act as pain relievers).
WHAT ARE THE DOSING GUIDELINES FOR ACETAMINOPHEN?
Unless a doctor or dentist provides different instructions, adults and teens should follow the directions on the package.
How much acetaminophen a day
Generally, no more than 3000 to 4000 milligrams should be taken per day.
For adults and teens, usual dosage schedules for immediate-delivery tablets include one of the following:
- 325 or 500 milligrams every three or four hours
- 650 milligrams every four to six hours
- 1000 milligrams every six hours
The usual adult dose for extended-release formulations is 650 to 1300 milligrams every eight hours.
Infants and children take less than adults. Doses for children are based on age, weight, and how the acetaminophen is delivered, such as syrup, tablet, or suppository.
If symptoms do not get better within two to five days, a doctor or dentist should be consulted.
Generally, adults should limit the use of acetaminophen to no more than ten days without seeing a healthcare provider investigate the cause of the symptoms.
Women who are pregnant or nursing can safely take it in the recommended doses for short periods of time.
Children should not take acetaminophen for more than five days as a pain reliever and no more than three days to reduce fever.
WHAT SIDE EFFECTS MIGHT COME WITH TAKING ACETAMINOPHEN?
Like many drugs, paracetamol comes with a few potential side effects. The most familiar side effects are lightheadedness and, for some people, stomach irritation.
Acetaminophen tablets or capsules can be taken with food or milk to lessen the chance of an upset stomach.
There are few rare adverse effects associated with acetaminophen as well.
Medical treatment should be sought if any of these symptoms are experienced after taking it:
- fever, with or with no chills, not present before
- pain in lower back or side
- yellow eyes or skin
- bloody stools or urine
- less urine
- unusual bleeding or bruising
- rashes or hives
Generally, acetaminophen is regarded as safe and can be bought without a prescription. However, you should be aware of some issues with this analgesic:
- Some people are allergic to paracetamol. If you believe you are acquiring an allergic reaction to it, seek immediate medical attention.
- If you have kidney disease, hepatitis, or liver disease, consult your doctor before using it because of potentially serious health issues.
- If you have phenylketonuria (a rare, inherited genetic disorder), you might experience medical complications related to your condition from brands of acetaminophen that contain aspartame.
- If you are taking multiple prescriptions and/or over-the-counter medications, you should be sure that acetaminophen is not an ingredient in more than one to avoid overdosing. Because acetaminophen is often a hidden ingredient in cold and flu medicines, it is possible to take too much acetaminophen experience an overdose unintentionally.
- Because acetaminophen has a serious effect on the liver, avoid drinking alcoholic beverages if you take more than one or two doses of acetaminophen. Your chances of liver damage increase when you take acetaminophen, especially if you often drink large amounts of alcohol.
- If you have medical testing, avoid taking acetaminophen three or four days before the tests unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Acetaminophen can interfere with the test results. For people with diabetes, acetaminophen can cause false results on certain blood sugar tests.
HOW WOULD ONE KNOW IF HE TOOK TOO MUCH ACETAMINOPHEN?
Accidental overdosing on acetaminophen is a serious issue. If you think you have exceeded dosage, medical attention should be immediately sought,
either by dialing emergency services (911 in the United States) or calling the poison control helpline at 1-800-222-1222.
Symptoms of an overdose on acetaminophen include:
- excessive sweating
- loss of appetite
- nausea or vomiting
- stomach cramps or pain
- pain in the lower back or side
- tenderness or pain in the upper abdomen or stomach
- symptoms similar to the flu
These signs might not be present until two to four days after the overdose. However, by the time these symptoms occur, liver damage may have already happened.
Death is also possible before any of these overdose symptoms are experienced.
Some people who overdose on acetaminophen require a liver transplant because of the severe damage it causes.
If treatment for an acetaminophen overdose is not started within hours, it may not be effective.
Taking N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an effective treatment and the current standard for treating overdoses. NAC should be taken with the first eight hours of an overdose.
Other overdose treatments are available. Emptying the stomach contents through a tube down the throat is effective if this treatment can begin within minutes of an overdose.
Taking activated charcoal is also an effective treatment within the first four hours of an overdose.
When giving acetaminophen to children, you should be aware of how easy it is to overdose on this medicine accidentally.
The dose for children should be determined by weight, not just age, and by following the directions on the package.
Adult acetaminophen products should not be administered to children because they can easily lead to an overdose.
Acetaminophen products for children come in easy-to-administer forms such as chewable, tablets, and good-tasting liquids.
Because they are appealing to children, products with acetaminophen should be locked out of their reach to avoid any chance of accidental ingestion.
When children overdose on acetaminophen, it can lead to severe liver problems or death.
“Acetaminophen (Oral Route, Rectal Route).” Mayo Clinic. March 1, 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/acetaminophen-oral-route-rectal-route/description/drg-20068480 (accessed October 15, 2018).
“Acetaminophen safety: Be cautious but not afraid.” Harvard Health. December 4, 2017. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/acetaminophen-safety-be-cautious-but-not-afraid (accessed October 15, 2018).
“How to Safely Give Acetaminophen.” Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Patients-Families/Health-Library/HealthDocNew/How-to-Safely-Give-Acetaminophen (accessed October 15, 2018).