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Is it Safe to Take Acetaminophen?

Yes. Acetaminophen is safe and effective when it is used according to the label directions. But, taking too much acetaminophen can lead to severe liver damage. Acetaminophen overdoses are the leading cause of liver failure in the United States, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Liver injury from acetaminophen overdose is considered very rare but remains a serious public health problem. Your risk for liver damage may also be increased if you drink three or more alcoholic drinks a day while taking a medicine that contains acetaminophen.

According to the FDA, most cases of liver damage from taking acetaminophen happen when:

  • more than the prescribed dose of a medicine was taken in a day
  • more than one medicine containing acetaminophen was taken at the same time
  • excessive alcohol was consumed while taking acetaminophen.

To be sure you are using acetaminophen in a prescription or an OTC medicine safely, follow three simple steps:

  1. Always read and follow the label on your medicines
  2. Know if your medicines contain acetaminophen
  3. Never take two medicines that contain acetaminophen at the same time

For more information, talk to your healthcare professional.

Read the Label

The medicine label can tell you many things, including:

  • the proper daily dose
  • what ingredients are in the medicine
  • what’s the medicine for
  • any reasons you should not take it or why you should speak with your health care professional before taking it
  • how to use the medicine.

The graphic below can show you how to read a label and the important elements that will help you use acetaminophen and other medicines safely.

Over-the-Counter Label

Active Ingredient

This section lists the ingredient or ingredients that make the medicine work. For example, the active ingredient is what helps your fever go down, reduces your pain, or relieves your cough. It is especially important to pay attention to this section if you are taking more than one medicine—whether OTC or prescription—to make sure you are not taking too much of the same active ingredient. Too much of an active ingredient can be harmful.

Purpose

This section tells you what type—or category—of medicine it is, such as an acid reducer or antihistamine.

Uses

This section tells you what symptoms or illnesses you can expect the medicine to treat. You should only use products that treat the symptoms you have. If you are using more than one medicine, pay specific attention to the active ingredients so you don’t accidentally take too much.

Warnings

There are times when you should not take a particular medicine. The warnings section explains these times, and also tells you when a healthcare provider needs to be consulted, as well as when to stop taking a product.

The “warnings” section also lets you know if there might be side effects to a medicine and if you should be cautious during any particular activities, such as driving. This section also may tell pregnant and nursing women not to use certain products unless they’ve talked to their healthcare provider and reminds parents and other caregivers to keep medicine out of the reach of children.

Directions

A medicine’s directions tell you exactly how and when to take a medicine. Remember, you should never take more than the Drug Facts label says, and you should never take a medicine more often or for longer than the label says unless told to do so by your healthcare provider. Taking more of a medicine or for longer than directed can be dangerous.

Be very careful when giving medicine to children. Read and follow the age or weight instructions on the label and always use the correct measuring device when administering liquid medicines. If you have any questions, talk to your child’s healthcare provider.

Other Information

This section tells you other important information you should know about a medicine, such as where to store it. Take a look at the labels on the medicines you have in your house and make sure you are keeping them in the right place. Most medicines should be kept away from heat and humidity. And remember what you learned in the “warnings” section: Regardless of the medicine, always keep medicines out of the reach and sight of children.

Inactive Ingredients

The inactive ingredients section includes important information, especially if you or a loved one has a known allergy.

Questions?

Always talk to your healthcare professional if you have any questions. You can also call the toll-free number listed in this section.

Source: Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition: www.KnowYourDose.org

Prescription Label

Warnings

Warnings are specific to the medicine you are taking. Always read the warnings before taking your medicine.

Expiration Date

Medicines expire. You should not take a medicine after the expiration date.

Pharmacy Information

Your local pharmacy name, address and phone number and the name of the doctor that has prescribed your medicine will be listed. Contact your pharmacist if you have any questions about your prescription.

Your prescription (Rx) number is unique to your medicine and helps the pharmacist ensure you go home with the correct prescription.

Source: Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition: www.KnowYourDose.org