Experts caution use of too much acetaminophen may lead to liver damage

011714-thumb-pillsAcetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol®, is safe at recommended doses, and is popular for treating pain and reducing fever in both children and adults. However, few people realize that when mixing meds, they might be overdosing on this ingredient, which can be fatal.

The Food and Drug Administration has asked doctors to stop prescribing pain killers that contain high doses of acetaminophen, due to the risks of liver damage.

According to the agency: “There are no available data to show that taking more than 325 mg of acetaminophen per dosage unit provides additional benefit that outweighs the added risks for liver injury.”

Avoiding overdose

Dr.  Norman Sussman, associate professor in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, specializing in liver disease and liver transplants, said these six easy steps can help to ensure you take this common drug safely:

  • Read the medicine label and follow the instructions. If you stay at or below the recommended dose, there is no risk of poisoning from acetaminophen. Doses are different for children and adults. Never give a child a dose recommended for an adult.
  • Know the maximum dosing. If you are an adult with a normal liver, and you eat regularly, you may take up to 4 grams (4,000 mg) of acetaminophen every 24 hours. If you have liver disease or have not eaten for more than 12 hours, you should reduce your dose of acetaminophen to 2g (2,000 mg) every 24 hours.
  • Know which medicines contain acetaminophen. Make sure you don’t exceed your daily maximum because you take more than one medication.
  • Secure acetaminophen containers by using child-proof bottles. Keep all medications out of the reach of children and securely locked up.
  • Keep a written list of all the medications including supplements you take regularly and show it to your doctor when receiving a new medication. This will help the doctor determine how much acetaminophen you take daily and if adding new medications may lead to overdose.
  • Limit your dosage if you consume more than three alcoholic beverages per day.

Additional resources

Too much of a good thing? What you need to know about acetaminophen.

See a full list of medications containing acetaminophen.

Take a look at tips for keeping medications safe.

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