Acetaminophen vs. Ibuprofen: Which One Should My Child Take?
What You Need to Know About Acetaminophen
Have a mind-numbing headache? Don’t be so quick to pop an over-the-counter pill to feel better, especially if it contains acetaminophen:Beginning in October, Extra Strength Tylenol bottles will come with an acetaminophen warning. Caps will now say, “CONTAINS ACETAMINOPHEN” and “ALWAYS READ THE LABEL.” Tylenol reps say the company plans to roll out the warning message on the bottles of all of its products some time after that.
Why the change? Acetaminophen overdoses send between 55,000 to 80,000 people in the U.S. to the emergency room each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. “The new cap message is designed to help encourage appropriate acetaminophen use and help reduce the risk of accidental overdose,” Tylenol spokesperson Jodie Wertheim said in an e-mail to WomensHealthMag.com.
Acetaminophen is also the top cause of acute liver failure in the U.S. says Sidney Wolfe, M.D., a former member of the FDA’s Drug Safety and Risk Management Committee. Tylenol, in particular, is currently cited in more than 85 personal injury lawsuits for liver injuries and deaths related to its drugs.
Part of the problem lies with the dosage, says Wolfe. In 2009, an FDA expert panel pushed for Extra Strength Tylenol to lower its acetaminophen content from 1,000 mg per recommended dose (500 mg per tablet) to 650 mg per dose (325 mg per tablet)—but changes have yet to be made. “Reducing the size of the pill would be a more doable and effective kind of change as opposed to labeling changes,” says Wolfe, who was part of that 2009 panel.
This isn’t to say that Tylenol and other OTC drugs that contain acetaminophen (such as Nyquil and Excedrin)aren’tsafe—it’s just a reminder to use extra caution when taking these meds. To avoid any potential trouble, follow these guidelines from the FDA:
—Read the “Drug Facts” label to check for acetaminophen—some meds say acetaminophen while others (usually prescription drugs) say APAP, which stands for acetaminophen.
—You should never exceed the recommended dosage. If you want to be extra cautious, look for medicines that contain 325 mg of acetaminophen (or less) per tablet, suggests Wolfe.
—Just to reiterate, never take more than directed amount—this can lead to liver damage. If your symptoms persist, see your physician (rather than increasing your dosage).
—Don’t take two different medicines that both contain acetaminophen. Taking an acetaminophen drug for a headache and then a different one for a cold, for example, can increase your liver-damage risk.
—If you consume three or more alcoholic drinks a day, talk to your doctor before taking any medication with acetaminophen, as taking even the recommended acetaminophen dose can do more liver damage. Drinking alcohol while taking drugs containing acetaminophen also ups your health risk.
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