You have flu symptoms, so you’ve been getting some relief by taking a cough & flu medicine every few hours. Late in the day, you have a headache & think about grabbing a couple of acetaminophen tablets (Tylenol, paracetamol & panadol) to treat the pain. Stop right there.

You might not realize that more than 600 medications – both prescription & nonprescription (or over-the-counter, OTC) – contain acetaminophen to help relieve pain & reduce fever. Acetaminophen, either alone or in combination, is commonly used to reduce fever, & to relieve pain from headaches, muscle aches, menstrual periods, sore throats, toothaches & backaches.

Be cautious not to exceed the daily limit of acetaminophen when using a single medicine or combination of medicines containing this drug. Taken carefully & correctly, these medicines can be safe & effective. But taking too much acetaminophen can lead to overdose & severe liver damage.

Symptoms of acetaminophen overdose may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, confusion & jaundice (yellow skin & eyes). Some people may have no symptoms after an overdose. Symptoms may take several days to appear. & even when they become apparent, these signs may initially mimic flu or cold symptoms. Severe cases may require liver transplantation & can cause death.

If you have questions about acetaminophen or any medication, contact the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Division of Drug Information at 1-855-543-3784 & 1-301-796-3400, or [email protected].

Acetaminophen Is in Many Products

Each year in the U.S., people catch 1 billion colds & as many as 12% of people get the flu. Moreover, 7 in 10 people use nonprescription medicines to treat cold, cough & flu symptoms. Acetaminophen is often an ingredient in many medications used to treat these symptoms.

Acetaminophen is used in many commonly prescribed medications in combination with pain relievers such as codeine, oxycodone & hydrocodone.

The current maximum recommended adult dose of acetaminophen is 4,000 milligrams per day for all medicines you might be taking. To avoid exceeding that dose:

  • Be aware of the number of milligrams of acetaminophen in all the medicines you are taking.
  • Don’t take more than one OTC medicine containing acetaminophen.
  • Don’t take a prescription & an OTC medicine containing acetaminophen unless advised to do so by your health care professional.
  • When your health care professional prescribes a drug, ask if it contains acetaminophen, & inform them of all other medicines (prescription & nonprescription) & supplements you take.

When you’re deciding which OTC product to buy, read the Drug Facts label to see if the ingredients include acetaminophen, especially before using two or more products at the same time. (For prescription drugs, the ingredients are listed on the container label.)

The word “acetaminophen” is not always spelled out in full on the container’s prescription label. Abbreviations – such as APAP, Acetaminoph, Acetaminop, Acetamin & Acetam – may be used instead.

Rely on Health Care Experts

Make a habit of telling your pharmacist what other medications & supplements you’re taking & asking if taking acetaminophen in addition to them is safe.

When a treatment is intended for children, read the directions section of the Drug Facts label to see if the medicine is right for your child & how much to give. Never guess on a dose. If the dose for your child’s weight or age is not listed on the label & you can’t tell how much to give, ask a health care professional what to do.

If you still have pain & fever after treatment, don’t take more than directed. Instead, discuss this with your health care professional. To avoid harm, talk with your health care professional if you have a history of liver disease or drink three or more alcoholic beverages a day.

Have a Question? Contact FDA’s Drug Information Pharmacists.

When in doubt, reach out to our pharmacists & ask.