Paracetamol (known as acetaminophen in the US) is one of the most commonly used over the counter pain medications. Unfortunately it is easy to intentionally and unintentionally overdose on paracetamol as it is contained in so many different products and in different strengths.
When can paracetamol be taken?
Paracetamol is the medication that is recommended first to take for pain that is acute (has just started) or chronic (ongoing pain) such as headache, toothache, temperature (fever), osteoarthritis, aches and pains due to colds and flu and other non-inflammatory conditions.
Paracetamol is safe to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
When should paracetamol not be taken?
Anyone with liver problems should check with their Doctor or Pharmacist before taking paracetamol.
There is no point taking, or giving to children, paracetamol for cold symptoms such as a runny nose. If there is no temperature or aches and pains paracetamol and other pain medications will not help and should not be given.
How to take paracetamol
For adults and children over 12 years 1-2 (500mg) tablets every 4-6 hours is the recommended dose with a maximum of 8 tablets (4 grams) in 24 hours.
If taking the slow release 665mg tablets the dose is 1-2 tablets every 6-8 hours with a maximum of 6 tablets (4 grams) in 24 hours.
The 500mg tablets are best for acute pain and the 665mg slow release tablets are best for ongoing chronic pain where it should be taken regularly three times daily to prevent and treat the pain.
For children it is very important to check the dosage instructions each time a dose is given as the strength varies depending on the ages recommended on the bottle. The dose for the same child will be different depending on whether the infants, 1-5 years or 5-12 years product is used. Children’s Panadol brand also make soluble and chewable tablets as well as suppositories. Just as with adults children should not be given paracetamol more frequently than every 4-6 hours and no more than 4 doses per 24 hours.
Most people know that Panadol is a product that contains paracetamol. There are so many other brands of paracetamol and it is important to make sure that only one brand is taken at a time to avoid overdose. Overdose occurs usually when someone takes more than one product containing paracetamol at a time. Cold and flu preparations usually contain paracetamol and most Lemsip products contain paracetamol too. Care needs to be taken to avoid doubling up.
Liver damage and liver failure requiring liver transplant can and do occur every year. Usually liver damage is unintentional but can occur if more than the recommended dose is taken or sometimes even if less is taken. Older people, those who drink a lot of alcohol and those who have poor nutrition are more likely to suffer liver damage from less than the recommended paracetamol dose.
All medications can potentially cause side effects. Paracetamol rarely causes side effects when taken at the recommended dose. Skin rash is possible though unlikely.
Can I take three paracetamol tablets at once to make my headache go away quicker?- NO you cannot! Taking three tablets at once will only give your liver a hard time trying to break down the medication and will not give you more pain relief.
Next week we’ll look at codeine.