Why is this medication prescribed?
Acetaminophen is used to relieve mild to moderate pain from headaches, muscle aches, menstrual periods, colds and sore throats, toothaches, backaches, and reactions to vaccinations (shots), and to reduce fever. Acetaminophen may also be used to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis (arthritis caused by the breakdown of the lining of the joints). Acetaminophen is in a class of medications called analgesics (pain relievers) and antipyretics (fever reducers). It works by changing the way the body senses pain and by cooling the body.
How should this medicine be used?
Acetaminophen comes as a tablet, chewable tablet, capsule, suspension or solution (liquid), extended-release (long-acting) tablet, and orally disintegrating tablet (tablet that dissolves quickly in the mouth), to take by mouth, with or without food. Acetaminophen also comes as a suppository to use rectally. Acetaminophen is available without a prescription, but your doctor may prescribe acetaminophen to treat certain conditions. Follow the directions on the package or prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand.
If you are giving acetaminophen to your child, read the package label carefully to make sure that it is the right product for the age of the child. Do not give children acetaminophen products that are made for adults. Some products for adults and older children may contain too much acetaminophen for a younger child. Check the package label to find out how much medication the child needs. If you know how much your child weighs, give the dose that matches that weight on the chart. If you don’t know your child’s weight, give the dose that matches your child’s age. Ask your child’s doctor if you don’t know how much medication to give your child.
Acetaminophen comes in combination with other medications to treat cough and cold symptoms. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on which product is best for your symptoms. Check nonprescription cough and cold product labels carefully before using two or more products at the same time. These products may contain the same active ingredient(s) and taking them together could cause you to receive an overdose. This is especially important if you will be giving cough and cold medications to a child.
Swallow the extended-release tablets whole; do not split, chew, crush, or dissolve them.
Place the orally disintegrating tablet (‘Meltaways’) in your mouth and allow to dissolve or chew it before swallowing.
Shake the suspension well before each use to mix the medication evenly. Always use the measuring cup or syringe provided by the manufacturer to measure each dose of the solution or suspension. Do not switch dosing devices between different products; always use the device that comes in the product packaging.
To insert an acetaminophen suppository into the rectum, follow these steps:
- Remove the wrapper.
- Dip the tip of the suppository in water.
- Lie down on your left side and raise your right knee to your chest. (A left-handed person should lie on the right side and raise the left knee.)
- Using your finger, insert the suppository into the rectum, about 1/2 to 1 inch (1.25 to 2.5 centimeters) in infants and children and 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) in adults. Hold it in place for a few moments.
- Stand up after about 15 minutes. Wash your hands thoroughly and resume your normal activities.
Stop taking acetaminophen and call your doctor if your symptoms get worse, you develop new or unexpected symptoms, including redness or swelling, your pain lasts for more than 10 days, or your fever gets worse or lasts more than 3 days. Also stop giving acetaminophen to your child and call your child’s doctor if your child develops new symptoms, including redness or swelling, or your child’s pain lasts for longer than 5 days, or fever get worse or lasts longer than 3 days.
Do not give acetaminophen to a child who has a sore throat that is severe or does not go away, or that occurs along with fever, headache, rash, nausea, or vomiting. Call the child’s doctor right away, because these symptoms may be signs of a more serious condition.
Other uses for this medicine
Acetaminophen may also be used in combination with aspirin and caffeine to relieve the pain associated with migraine headache.
This medication is sometimes prescribed for other uses; ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.
What special precautions should I follow?
Before taking acetaminophen:
- tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are allergic to acetaminophen, any other medications, or any of the ingredients in the product. Ask your pharmacist or check the label on the package for a list of ingredients.
- tell your doctor and pharmacist what prescription and nonprescription medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements, or herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Be sure to mention anticoagulants (‘blood thinners’) such as warfarin (Coumadin); isoniazid (INH); certain medications for seizures including carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenobarbital, and phenytoin (Dilantin); medications for pain, fever, coughs, and colds; and phenothiazines (medications for mental illness and nausea). Your doctor may need to change the doses of your medications or monitor you carefully for side effects.
- tell your doctor if you have ever developed a rash after taking acetaminophen.
- tell your doctor if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding. If you become pregnant while taking acetaminophen, call your doctor.
- if you drink three or more alcoholic beverages every day, do not take acetaminophen. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the safe use of alcoholic beverages while taking acetaminophen.
- you should know that combination acetaminophen products for cough and colds that contain nasal decongestants, antihistamines, cough suppressants, and expectorants should not be used in children younger than 2 years of age. Use of these medications in young children can cause serious and life-threatening effects or death. In children 2 through 11 years of age, combination cough and cold products should be used carefully and only according to the directions on the label.
- if you have phenylketonuria (PKU, an inherited condition in which a special diet must be followed to prevent mental retardation), you should know that some brands of acetaminophen chewable tablets may be sweetened with aspartame. a source of phenylalanine.
What special dietary instructions should I follow?
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, continue your normal diet.
What should I do if I forget a dose?
This medication is usually taken as needed. If your doctor has told you to take acetaminophen regularly, take the missed dose as soon as you remember it. However, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Do not take a double dose to make up for a missed one.