Acetaminophen: How Much is Safe?

Manage pain with acetaminophen:

Acetaminophen is found in more than 600 drugs. This includes prescription and over-the-counter meds. Examples of meds that may have acetaminophen are pain relievers, fever reducers, and sleep aids. Acetaminophen can also be found in cough, cold, and allergy drugs. It is the most common “drug ingredient” in America. Acetaminophen is often called paracetamol in Great Britain and other English-speaking countries other than the U.S. There is no therapeutic or chemical difference between acetaminophen and paracetamol. They are two generic names for the same chemical substance. Over 50 million Americans take a medication that has acetaminophen each week. Acetaminophen is safe and effective if you follow the label’s directions. There’s a limit to how much you can take in one day. Taking too much can be harmful. It can also cause liver damage.

Per the FDA, liver damage from taking acetaminophen can happen when:

  • More than the prescribed dose of a medicine is taken in a day
  • More than one medicine that has acetaminophen is taken at the same time
  • You drink a lot of alcohol while taking acetaminophen

Tips to take acetaminophen safely:

  1. Always follow the drug label: Read the label before taking any medicine. Never take more acetaminophen than the label says. Taking too much can lead to liver damage. It can also cause other side effects.
  2. Know if a medicine contains acetaminophen: That way you can avoid taking too much. Here’s how to find out:
    • Over-the-counter medicine: Check the front of the package for the word “acetaminophen”. Check the “active ingredient” section of the Drug Facts label for the word “acetaminophen.”
    • Prescription medicine: look for the words “acetaminophen”, “APAP”, or “acetam” on the label.
    • See this list of medications that contain acetaminophen.
  3. Never take two medicines that contain acetaminophen at the same time: Acetaminophen overdose can cause liver damage.
  4. Ask your healthcare provider if you have questions about dosing. How much acetaminophen children, adults and the elderly can safely take differs. It may change by weight, sensitivity, and in some conditions. It can also change as we age and face different health conditions.
    • Talk to your healthcare provider before you take acetaminophen if you drink three or more alcoholic drinks a day. Certainly, speak with your healthcare provider if you have liver disease. You may be at greater risk for liver damage. Also, talk to your healthcare provider before taking meds that have acetaminophen if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking warfarin.
  5. Keep acetaminophen – and all medications — out of reach and sight of young children and grandchildren.

More resources about acetaminophen safe use:

Acetaminophen Safe Use for Older Adults: a resource for adults, caregivers, and healthcare professionals. Older adults use more medicines than any other age group in the U.S. This increases the risk of drug interactions. This toolkit has information on how and why medicines can affect us differently as we age. It also has tips on what can be done to reduce medicine risks.

Be Acetaminophen-Savvy on Campus: a guide to help college students be acetaminophen-savvy.

Be Acetaminophen-Savvy: a toolkit for teens and teen influencers such as parents and teachers. This toolkit will help teens understand how to take meds with acetaminophen safely.

BeMedWise is a member of the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition, a leader in acetaminophen safe use education. Learn more at KnowYourDose.com