According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Acetaminophen is one of the most commonly used medicines in the United States.” When this medication is taken as prescribed, it has a long-standing and excellent record of safety and effectiveness. However, an overdose of acetaminophen can actually be toxic resulting in liver failure.
What is Acetaminophen?
Acetaminophen is a common medication used to reduce fever and/or relieve pain. It is an ingredient that is contained in many over-the-counter cold remedies and pain relievers. It is also often found in many prescription medications for pain.
It is used to treat many common conditions and ailments including fevers, sprains, muscle aches, back pain, toothaches, colds, arthritis, and headaches. It can be administered orally, intravenously, or rectally.
You should seek immediate emergency medical help if you show signs of an allergic reaction to acetaminophen which may include:
• Difficulty breathing
• Facial swelling
• Throat swelling
• Tongue swelling
• Swelling lips
Be aware that this is not a complete list of all possible side effects, but these are some of the more serious adverse reactions associated with acetaminophen.
What are the Dangers of Acetaminophen?
The most common danger associated with acetaminophen is the risk of overdose. That is what leads to toxicity which damages the liver and can,, ultimately, lead to liver failure. Acetaminophen is one of the leading causes of liver failure in the United States.
Liver toxicity is not the only risk associated with taking acetaminophen. Other, albeit lesser, known risks include gastro-intestinal (GI) bleeding, increased risks of developing blood-related cancers, and kidney toxicity with regular use of acetaminophen.
Mitigating the Risks Associated with Acetaminophen
The problem is that acetaminophen is found in so many medications that people don’t always realize when they’re taking it. One of the most important things you can do, as a consumer, to reduce your risks of acetaminophen overdose is to make yourself aware of all the medications that contain this ingredient and avoid mixing them together. Education is almost always the key.
First, it is important to know that acetaminophen and paracetamol are the same things. If you see either of these ingredients listed in the active ingredients in your medication, it is referring to the same drug.
While Tylenol may be the most widely-known brand of medications that contain acetaminophen, there are quite a few over-the-counter medications that contain acetaminophen, including the following:
• Aspirin Free Anacin
This list is by no means inclusive of all the medications containing acetaminophen, but it does highlight how easy it would to be for someone to take an excess amount simply by combining Ny-Quil with Tylenol while suffering from a cold. At any point in time these medication manufacturers may decide to remove acetaminophen from the active ingredients.
RX Drugs Containing Acetaminophen
There are also prescription medications containing acetaminophen you need to be on the lookout for as well. They include:
• Hydrocodone Bitartrate
• Tylenol with Codeine
There are literally dozens if not hundreds of variations and generics that may also contain acetaminophen. That’s why it’s always important to discuss which over-the-counter medications you can take in combination with prescription medications with your physician and/or pharmacist. Drug interactions can be extremely harmful.
Other steps you should take to avoid potential liver problems from acetaminophen include avoiding this medication if you have a history of liver problems, if there are potentially hereditary liver problems in your family, or if you have a history of alcohol abuse. Certain other medical may cause potential complications to the liver and acetaminophen should be avoided in those cases as well. You should also consider skipping acetaminophen to treat chronic recurring pain from arthritis or chronic back pain. Search for other alternatives that do not have the potentially harmful side effects.
Finally, if you do take medications containing acetaminophen, follow the packaging instructions closely concerning proper dose and limit the number of days you take the medication. The FDA and other authorities have deemed this a safe medication when packaging instructions are followed properly and exposure is limited. Even the daily recommendations, over an extended period of time can lead to a buildup in the system that can have serious health consequences.
Addiction to Acetaminophen
Addiction is another danger that goes along with acetaminophen use or, more accurately, abuse. While most people are not going to become addicted to over-the-counter strengths of acetaminophen, it is quite common for people to abuse prescription pain medications that contain acetaminophen as the active ingredient such as Vicodin or Oxycodone.
Prescription drug abuse is a problem that’s on the rise, particularly among teens according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Vicodin and OxyContin, both of which contain acetaminophen, are among the more popular prescription drugs abused today. When people who are already abusing these medications begin mixing them with over-the-counter medications containing acetaminophen, the risks really increase.
Prevention is always the best cure. When it comes to acetaminophen, the best way to avoid its dangers is to avoid taking this medication altogether. Make yourself aware of all the medications that contain acetaminophen as an ingredient and avoid taking them altogether. Consider natural alternatives such as fever baths and cold compresses to bring down fevers. Seek alternatives to acetaminophen to relieve pain such as turmeric for muscle pain relief, devil’s claw for back, shoulder and neck pain, or capsaicin creams.
While it is acceptable to take acetaminophen if you follow the package instructions to avoid overdose, only you can decide whether or not it’s really worth the risks. With so many herbal alternatives and safe options for pain relief and fever reduction, this is one risk it seems senseless to take.
Addiction is bad enough in its own right. It can rip families apart, ends careers, and, in some instances, ends lives. If you or someone you love is addicted to painkillers that contain acetaminophen, the risks are even greater than you probably realize and some of the damage may already be done. But the important thing to realize is that there is there are experts trained to help you or your loved one conquer an addiction. Now is the time to get help.