Acetaminophen has received much public attention as a cause of liver damage when more than the recommended amount is taken. In 2011, the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition (AAC) was formed to educate patients and consumers about the safe and effective use of acetaminophen. The coalition is made up of leading healthcare organizations, healthcare providers, and consumer organizations. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a member of the coalition, recently issued a statement reminding consumers about the dangers of taking too much Acetaminophen.
Some of the key points consumers should know about safe acetaminophen use include:
1. There is a large selection of both prescription and non-prescription medicines that contain acetaminophen in combination with other active ingredients. For example, many cold medicines contain acetaminophen for fever and pain, a decongestant to treat nasal stuffiness, and a cough medicine. Combining two or more products containing acetaminophen can be harmful.
2. Consumers need to know when acetaminophen is an ingredient in their medicines. Always read the active ingredients on the label before taking medicine.
- OTC products: The FDA makes sure that labels on OTC medicines list all the active ingredients. If you are unfamiliar with how to read an OTC label, visit: http://www.knowyourdose.org/how-read-your-label .
- Prescription medicine: Because of limited space on prescription labels, an abbreviation for acetaminophen, APAP, is often used instead. APAP stands for N-acetyl-p-aminophenol, a chemical name for acetaminophen. For example, the pain reliever Percocet contains oxycodone (a narcotic) and acetaminophen. A prescription for Percocet dispensed using a generic drug often has a label on the bottle that says "oxycodone and APAP." If you are unfamiliar with how to read a prescription label, visit: http://www.knowyourdose.org/how-read-your-label.
3. Familiarize yourself with the recommended daily dosage of acetaminophen. Taking too much can lead to severe liver damage.
- Adults: The current maximum recommended adult dose is 4,000 milligrams per day. Depending on the medicine you are taking, each pill or liquid dose of acetaminophen may vary. Carefully read the label to determine how much acetaminophen you are taking in each dose. Follow the dosing schedule as directed on the medication label. For example, do not take a dose sooner than recommended.
- Children ages two years and up: The recommended dosage of acetaminophen in children two years and older depends on the child’s weight. OTC package labels will provide recommendations by both the age and weight of your child. However, to get the most accurate dose, it’s best to know your child’s current weight. The maximum dosing should not exceed five doses in 24 hours.
- Children ages two and younger: Currently, OTC products containing acetaminophen do not include dosing instructions for children less than two. Parents are instructed to call their physician for dosing instruction.
4. Be aware that the maximum amount of acetaminophen that can be safely ingested may not be the same for every person. If you have a history of liver disease, drink more than 3 alcoholic beverages per day, or take other medications that can affect the liver, always discuss with your physician what the safest dose of acetaminophen is for you.
You can learn more about acetaminophen at KnowYourDose.org, where you can get tips on reading over-the-counter and prescription labels and view a list of common medicines that contain acetaminophen.