How to use Paracetamol (Acetaminophen)
The basics of acetaminophen/paractamol
Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen (Tylenol and Panadol are some brand names); is one of the most widely used medications in the world. It is a commonly used pain reliever (analgesic) and also reduces fever (anti-pyretic). It is widely used by both adults and children. It is readily available over the counter in pharmacies and in supermarkets. So if it is so easy to access, surely it must be really safe? Well when taken correctly it is considered to be safe for most people to use, but it is very dangerous if taken in overdose! Here are a few basic things you need to know about paracetamol/acetaminophen.
How does it work?
No one is quite sure how exactly paracetamol works. It is thought to act on the hypothalamus in the brain to reduce fever, and works in the peripheral nervous system in some way to reduce pain impulses. It may also work in the central nervous system to reduce pain by reducing prostaglandin synthesis, and these are chemicals which cause pain and inflammation.
Widely Used For Pain and Fever
How do I take Paracetamol/Acetaminophen?
Paracetamol should only ever be taken in accordance with the directions given by your doctor, pharmacist or as indicated on the product packaging. Particular care needs to be taken when measuring out doses for children, which are based on body weight. Whilst generally safe at therapeutic doses, when taken incorrectly paracetamol is one of the most common pharmaceutical agents resulting in cases of accidental and intentional poisoning cases.
There are immediate release tablets, extended release tablets, liquids and suppostories available. Many combination products that contain paracetamol/acetaminophen with other ingredients are also available, which adds to the potential for confusion and accidental overdose.For adults the maximum safe dose of paracetamol/acetaminophen is 4g daily. This is the total daily dose which needs to include ALL products you may take that contain paracetamol/acetaminophen (eg. cold and flu tablets often contain paracetamol/acetaminophen).
For children, stick to the dosing recommendations on the product label, and only use one paracetamol/acetaminophen product at a time.
Who Needs To Be Careful?
- People who are hypersensitive (allergic) to paracetamol/acetaminophen should not take it.
- People with chronic liver disease should seek medical advice prior to using paracetamol/acetaminophen as the risk of experiencing liver problems from therapeutic doses (not just overdoses) may be higher.
What Are Some of The Side Effects?
Most people who take paracetamol/acetaminophen do not experience any side effects. Rarely, the following side effects have been reported.
- A condition know as “drug fever” (a fever accompanied by sore throat and mouth or throat ulcers with no other identifiable cause)
Report any suspected side effects to your pharmacist or doctor.
Are there any drug interactions?
Paracetamol/acetaminophen is not reported to interact with many medications. It can interact with a blood thinning medication called warfarin. Patients taking warfarin who wish to take paracetamol should consult their pharmacist or doctor for advice.
Is there anything else I should know?
- Be aware that paracetamol is often found in a number of combination products eg. cold and flu products, combination analgesics, so be sure to read the packing carefully so you don’t end up double dosing on paracetamol!
- Always stick to the recommended dose (4g standard release product, 3390mg extended release product in 24 hours, products may vary so read packaging for details)
- If you are self medicating and pain or fever is lasting for more than a few days, consult your doctor for advice.
More by this Author
Calcium and vitamin D have critical roles in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, a disease that increases in prevalence among older people.
No one wants to be sick, especially with the flu! Learn how to avoid getting the flu this winter.
If you’ve ever had a prescription filled, chances are you’ve been asked if you would like the generic brand. Read on to find out what the difference is between generic versus branded medications.