Did you know that more than 50 million Americans use a medicine that contains acetaminophen each week? Acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in America, found in more than 600 different over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription (Rx) medicines, including pain relievers; fever reducers; sleep aids; and numerous 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:
- 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.
- 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 medicine labels, the word “acetaminophen” is written 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.
- 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.
- Ask your healthcare provider or a 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.