Acetaminophen is known as a safe and effective pain reliever and fever reducer. You may recognize it as Anacin or Tylenol, but acetaminophen also shows up in a variety of prescription and over-the-counter medications that don’t necessarily have acetaminophen, Anacin or Tylenol in their name.
“Despite its safety when used properly, acetaminophen is one of the more common overdoses reported to poison centers,” clinical toxicologist Alexander Garrard writes in the October 2012 edition of Critical Care Clinics. He recently departed Upstate to join the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Acetaminophen toxicity is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States. It can also damage the kidneys.
Toxicity can be the consequence of acute overdose, or of repeated excessive dosing – which can happen unintentionally if you take several different medications containing acetaminophen. The symptoms of overdose may begin vaguely, with nausea, malaise and vomiting, and may develop into pain and tenderness in the upper right area of the abdomen.
How to protect yourself? Read ingredient labels, and dosing instructions.
The makers of Tylenol say adults and children age 12 and up can take up to two 325-milligram tablets every 4 to 6 hours, not to exceed more than 10 tablets in 24 hours. Children age 6 to 11 can take one tablet every 4 to 6 hours, not to exceed more than five tablets in 24 hours. Acetaminophen is not meant to be taken on a regular basis.
Garrard is now a health scientist on staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.