Six facts everyone should know about Tylenol

Tylenol, cold medicine, and wine are a toxic combinationAcetaminophen (Tylenol) is the most widely used pain reliever and fever reducer in the United States, and it’s a common ingredient that’s readily available in most parts of the world. When taken as directed, it’s thought to be safe, but it’s very important that the following facts are well known:

  1. Acetaminophen causes more overdoses and overdose deaths, due to liver toxicity, than any other drug in the United States. This is due in part to it’s toxicity but also because it’s a common ingredient and very easy to obtain.
  2. As few as three alcoholic drinks at one time, when combined with certain over–the–counter medications, such as those containing acetaminophen, may have toxic effects on the liver.
  3. Overdoses also occur simply because people underestimate or are unaware of acetaminophen’s toxicity. Many cold remedies already contain acetaminophen (Tylenol), and overdoses can easily occur by taking acetaminophen in addition to a cold remedy, or two cold remedies which both contain acetaminophen. It’s very important to read the label of all over-the counter products before taking them.  Do not combine products which both contain acetaminophen.
  4. Parents can make a variety of mistakes in the amount of acetaminophen they give their children. For one, a parent may be unsatisfied with the results of the recommended dosage of acetaminophen, and decide more will be better. Another common mistake occurs when a parent may mistakenly give adult tablets to a child, instead of the children’s formulation. Also, even the children’s versions of acetaminophen come in many different formulations, and the dosage varies for each one. For example, the infant drop formulation is three times as concentrated as the elixir or syrup typically given to toddlers. It’s easy to see how a busy parent might assume that both liquids contain the same amount of medicine. But substituting infant drops for syrup could result in a dose of acetaminophen three times what it should be.
  5. Acetaminophen is frequently the drug of choice for adolescent suicide attempts. There is an antidote but it must be administered within eight to 10 hours after an overdose has been ingested.
  6. Toxic levels of acetaminophen can result in severe liver damage or liver failure. Your liver is a vital organ–you can’t live without it.

As long as acetaminophen is given to children at recommended doses, there is virtually no risk of liver toxicity, according to a recent large study from Rocky Mounting Poison and Drug Center in Denver.  But it cannot be stressed enough that’s it’s essential to read the label of all over-the-counter products before taking them or giving them to your child.

via “Over-the-Counter Pain Relief” from Bay Area Medical Information
via “AASLD: Acetaminophen Dosed Properly Poses Minimal Liver Risk to Children” from MedPage Today, November 3, 2008

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1 Response to “Six facts everyone should know about Tylenol”

  1. Nina,

    Thanks for this information. Too many of us take over-the-counter pain relievers without realizing they can have side effects.

    The Tangled Neuron

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