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Well and Good: New Rules for Acetaminophen

Many of us rely on Tylenol and other over-the-counter acetaminophen products for headaches, pain, fever and other aches of daily living. But are you taking this popular pain medication safely? The recommendations are changing, starting this fall.

For most adults, acetaminophen is a safe drug as long as it’s taken at the correct dose. But if you take too much, you may get sick to your stomach or vomit. After an extended period of use, excessive acetaminophen may even lead to acute liver failure.

So it’s important to review the new recommendations, as well as overall safety rules:

Tylenol, the leading manufacturer, is changing its recommended maximum doses for adults starting this fall:

  • Extra-strength Tylenol labels will recommend no more than six 500-mg tablets per day, or a total of 3,000 mg per day. This is down from 8 tablets and 4,000 milligrams per day.
  • Regular-strength Tylenol products will recommend adults consume no more than 10 325-mg tablets per days, or 3,250 mg in total. This advice begins next year.
  • If you take extended-release Tylenol, dosing will not change. You can still take up to six 650-mg caplets, or 3,900 mg per day.

Never take more than one product containing acetaminophen at the same time: In addition to pain relievers like Tylenol, acetaminophen is an ingredient in many multi-symptom cold and allergy medicines you can buy without a prescription. It’s also included in some prescription pain relievers. Always read labels carefully; “acetaminophen” should be listed on the front of the label for over-the-counter meds, and should also be listed as one of the “active ingredients.”

In prescription medications, acetaminophen may be abbreviated as APAP. Ask your pharmacist if you are not sure!

Control alcohol consumption: If you drink more than three drinks containing alcohol daily, acetaminophen may not be safe for you. Ask your pharmacist or physician for guidance.

Watch children’s usage carefully:  Infants and children take a liquid form of acetaminophen. New dosing recommendations for children will be based on age and weight, starting this fall. For children ages 4 months to 23 months, the recommendation is 10 to 15 mg every 4 to 6 hours, with up to 5 doses per day. Keep a written log of when you give children the medicine, to avoid getting confused and giving them too many doses in a 24-hour period.

Also, always use the measurement dropper or spoon that comes with the medication; it can be dangerous to use a regular spoon, because it will not give you a precise, accurate measurement. Finally, read the label carefully before giving children this mediation. Older concentrated liquids are being phased out, and if you do not carefully follow directions on the product you’re using, you could easily give children two to three times as much as recommended.

If in doubt of overdose, get help immediately: If you think you or your child has taken too much acetaminophen, call a poison control center. The toll-free number is 1-800-222-1222. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.