What is acetaminophen used for?

Acetaminophen is an ingredient found in more than 600 different over-the-counter and prescription medicines. It is a temporary fever reducer and pain reliever for mild to moderate pain caused by chronic headaches and migraines, muscle aches, back pain, arthritis and joint pain, the common cold, toothache, and premenstrual and menstrual cramps. If your pain gets worse or lasts for more than 10 days or if your fever worsens or lasts more than three days, stop use and talk to a healthcare provider.

Is acetaminophen safe?

Yes, acetaminophen is safe when used as directed. It is the most commonly used medicine in America and is relied upon to relieve pain and reduce fever. It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it is safe and effective at recommended doses for people ages two years and older. For people under the age of two, consult your healthcare provider.

As with any medicine, acetaminophen must be used according to the directions on the over-the-counter Drug Facts label or the prescription label. You should never use a larger dose or use the medicine for longer than the label instructs. In addition, it is important to make sure you are not taking two medicines that contain acetaminophen (over-the-counter or prescription) at the same time. Taking two acetaminophen-containing medicines at the same time or taking more than the recommended amount is an overdose and may cause liver damage. You should always follow the directions on the label.

What does acetaminophen look like?

Acetaminophen comes in many forms, shapes, and strengths, including liquid, pills, gel caps, powders, and IV fluid. It is found in both prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Always check your over-the-counter and prescription labels to see if your medicines contain acetaminophen. For a photo library of medicines, please visit the National Library of Medicine.

How do I know if a medicine contains acetaminophen?

Acetaminophen is found in more than 600 different prescription and over-the-counter medicines, including pain relievers, fever reducers, and sleep aids as well as cold, flu, and allergy medicines.

Over-the-counter medicines that contain acetaminophen always list the ingredient on the Drug Facts label in the active ingredient section. It may be highlighted, as well, to draw your attention to it. It also will be written on the front of the package. It is important to know that prescription medicines will list acetaminophen on their labels, or they may list “APAP,” “acetam,” or another shorted version of the word. All of these mean that acetaminophen is in the medicine.

You can find a list of some common medications that contain acetaminophen here and learn more about how to read medicine labels here. You should always consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions about active ingredients.

When should I talk to a healthcare professional before taking acetaminophen?

Talk to your healthcare professional before taking acetaminophen if you drink more than three alcoholic drinks every day or if you have liver disease. Under these conditions, taking acetaminophen puts you at greater risk of getting liver damage, even when taking acetaminophen at the recommended dose.

If you take the blood thinner warfarin, you should talk to your healthcare professional before taking acetaminophen because taking warfarin and acetaminophen together may raise your risk of bleeding.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as with any medicine, ask a healthcare professional before taking acetaminophen.

What should I do if I think I’ve taken too much acetaminophen?

Taking too much acetaminophen is an overdose and can lead to liver damage. If you think you have taken too much acetaminophen or have given too much acetaminophen to someone you care for, contact a healthcare professional or the nationwide poison control helpline immediately at 1-800-222-1222.

Forms of
TabletsChewable Tablets
Gel TabsLiquid
SuppositoriesDissolving Strips
Shapes of Acetaminophen:




The National Library of Medicine (NLM)

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is the world's largest medical library. The Library offers databases and search tools to help identify and learn more about over-the-counter and prescription medicines. Visit the NLM’s DailyMed database.