Acetaminophen Safety

Sick KidAcetaminophen relieves pain, reduces fever, and is the most common drug ingredient in U.S. It is found in more than 600 different medicines, including prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, fever reducers, and sleep aids as well as cough, cold, and allergy medicines.

When used as directed, acetaminophen is safe and effective. But there is a limit to how much you can take in one day. Taking more acetaminophen than directed is an overdose and can lead to liver damage. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends taking no more than 4,000 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period.

Follow these four steps to use acetaminophen safely:

  1. Always read and follow the label.
    • Never take more medicine than the label says. Taking more acetaminophen than directed is an overdose and can lead to liver damage.
     
  2. Know if your medicines contain acetaminophen.
    • It is important to check the active ingredients listed on the labels of all your medicines to see if they contain acetaminophen.
    • On over-the-counter medicines, the word “acetaminophen” is listed on the front of the package or bottle, and is highlighted or in bold type in the active ingredient section of the Drug Facts label.
    • On prescription medicine labels, acetaminophen is sometimes listed as “APAP,” “acetam,” or other shortened versions of the word.
     
  3. Take only one medicine at a time that contains acetaminophen.
    • You can take too much acetaminophen if you use more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen at the same time.
     
  4. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have questions about dosing instructions or medicines that contain acetaminophen.

Talk to your healthcare provider before taking acetaminophen if you drink three or more alcoholic drinks a day or if you have liver disease. You may be at greater risk for liver damage. It is also important to talk to your healthcare provider before taking medicines containing acetaminophen if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you take warfarin.

The CHPA Educational Foundation is a proud member of the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition whose goal is to educate patients and consumers on how to appropriately use medicines that contain acetaminophen. To learn about the coalition’s "Know Your Dose" campaign, visit KnowYourDose.org.

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