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Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is an internal analgesic available in over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that temporarily relieves minor aches and pains and reduces fever. Acetaminophen is also available in prescription medicines combined with other ingredients, and on some prescription labels it may be abbreviated as APAP. It will never be abbreviated and will always say acetaminophen on OTC Drug Facts labels.

Acetaminophen can be the only ingredient in oral pain relievers and fever reducers or it can be found in medicines that contain more than one active ingredient to treat migraines. Acetaminophen also may be in medicines that not only relieve pain or reduce fever, but treat additional symptoms as well, such as occasional sleeplessness, the multiple symptoms of the common cold, or symptoms associated with menstruation. For individuals who cannot take an oral medication, acetaminophen is available in single-ingredient rectal suppositories.

Acetaminophen is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is safe and effective when used according to label directions. Because so many medicines contain acetaminophen, it is important to check the label to see which medicines contain acetaminophen and to never take more than the maximum daily dose listed on the label. You should never take more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen at a time or use it for a longer period of time than what is recommended on the label. Taking too much acetaminophen can cause an overdose and may lead to liver damage.

Know Your Dose

The CHPA Educational Foundation is a proud member of the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition whose goal is to educate patients and consumers on how to appropriately use medicines that contain acetaminophen. Visit the coalition’s website, KnowYourDose.org, to view a list of common medicines that contain acetaminophen, get tips on reading your over-the-counter and prescription labels and order free educational materials on how to appropriately use medicines that contain acetaminophen. 

If you ever have questions on your health or the health of a family member, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider.

*Acetaminophen may not be contained in all products marketed under these brands. Please read the OTC Drug Facts label carefully for active ingredient information for specific products.

Tips for Medicines with Acetaminophen

When using acetaminophen-containing medicines, it is important to know that:

  • Severe liver damage may occur if you take more than the maximum daily adult dosage in 24 hours, or if you drink three or more alcoholic drinks every day while using the medicine.
  • Do not use with other drugs, prescription or over-the-counter, containing acetaminophen.
  • You should carefully read and follow the label directions.
  • Taking more medicine than the label says or for longer than the label says can cause health risks.
  • Learn how to appropriately use medicines that contain acetaminophen through the Know Your Dose campaign.

Do not use if:

  • You are currently taking any other acetaminophen-containing medicine, prescription or OTC. Acetaminophen may be written as APAP on prescription labels, but it is the same active ingredient. Taking too much acetaminophen can lead to an overdose and may cause liver damage.
  • You are allergic to acetaminophen.
  • Tamper-evident packaging features such as seals, locks, and films are not clear or seem broken.

Ask a healthcare professional before use if:

  • You are currently using another medicine containing an internal analgesic active ingredient (aspirin, magnesium salicylate, naproxen sodium, ibuprofen, or ketoprofen).
  • You have liver disease.
  • You are taking the blood thinning drug, warfarin.
  • You drink three or more alcoholic drinks a day.
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Stop use and ask a doctor if:

  • Your fever gets worse or lasts more than three days, or if your pain gets worse or lasts for more than 10 days.
  • New symptoms occur or redness or swelling is present.
  • You take too much. Immediately contact a doctor or the poison control national helpline at 800.222.1222.

If you have questions about any of the medicines you are taking of if you have any unexpected side effects, talk to a healthcare professional. And of course, keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.

Tips for Parents

  • In 2011, the FDA announced changes to dosing instructions for infants' and children's liquid acetaminophen. To learn about these changes, listen to an audio file of our blogger call with pediatrician TJ Gold here.
  • Acetaminophen-containing medicines are available in different dosage strengths. Do not give an OTC medicine containing acetaminophen to a child that is only intended for use in adults as this would provide more than the recommended dose and may cause liver damage.
  • Read the label for proper child dosing instructions. Contact a healthcare professional as directed.
  • For liquid medicines, only use the dosing device enclosed with the medicine.
  • Talk to a doctor before giving acetaminophen to a child with liver disease.
  • Severe liver damage may occur if your child takes more than the maximum daily dosage in 24 hours or with other medicines containing acetaminophen.
  • If your child has a severe sore throat that lasts for more than two days, is accompanied or followed by high fever, headache, nausea, or vomiting, contact a healthcare professional immediately.
  • Pay attention to the concentration (or strength) of infants’ single-ingredient liquid acetaminophen when treating your child. The makers of infant single-ingredient liquid acetaminophen have changed the medicine from a highly concentrated dose to a less concentrated dose (80 mg/0.8 mL to 160 mg/5 mL). During this transition, old medicines could still be on store shelves and in your home. To avoid dosing errors, consumers, parents, and caregivers should carefully read the Drug Facts label on the package to identify the concentration of the liquid acetaminophen (in mg/mL), dosage, and directions for use. Parents and caregivers should ask a healthcare professional if they have any questions.
  • For information on dosing of acetaminophen-containing medicines, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website.

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