Get the Facts About Acetaminophen

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.

Acetaminophen Maximum Daily Dose

When used as directed, acetaminophen is safe and effective. But there is a limit to how much acetaminophen you can take in one day. Taking more 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.

Tips for Using Acetaminophen Safely

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 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.
  3. How much acetaminophen can you take at once? 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 a pharmacist if you have questions about dosing instructions or medicines that contain acetaminophen.

Alcohol and 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.

Side Effects of Acetaminophen

It is suggested that you stop taking acetaminophen and talk with your doctor if:

  • You still feel pain after 10 days (adult) or 5 days (children)
  • You still have a fever after 3 days
  • Your symptoms get worse, or you feel new symptoms

In rare cases, acetaminophen may cause an allergic reaction. Seek medical assistance immediately if you experience difficulty breathing or swallowing, swelling of your face, lips, throat, or tongue, hives, severe itching, or peeling or blistering skin.

If you suspect you have taken more than the recommended dosage of acetaminophen, contact your poison control center (1-800-222-2222) or get medical help right away. Symptoms of overdose can include yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, and unusual bruising or bleeding.