Acetaminophen (acetam – APAP)

What is acetaminophen?

Acetaminophen is an internal analgesic available in over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that temporarily relieve minor aches and pains and reduce fevers. It is also available in prescription medicines combined with other ingredients.

Acetaminophen can be the only ingredient in oral pain relievers and fever reducers, or it can be found in medicines that contain more than one active ingredient to treat migraines. Additionally, acetaminophen can be found in medicines that treat occasional sleeplessness, the multiple symptoms of the common cold, and symptoms associated with menstruation. For individuals who cannot take an oral medicine, acetaminophen is available in single-ingredient rectal suppositories.

What is acetaminophen used to treat?

  • Minor aches and pains
  • Fevers
  • Symptoms associated with the common cold
  • Symptoms associated with menstruation
Common brands containing acetaminophen:
  • Excedrin
  • Feverall
  • Goody’s
  • Midol
  • Pamprin
  • Percogesic
  • Theraflu
  • Tylenol
  • Vanquish
  • Vicks
  • Store Brands (ex. Walmart’s “Equate” store brand or CVS Health store brand)

How much acetaminophen can you take?

Different types of products containing this active ingredient have different strengths. That’s why it is always important to read and follow the Drug Facts label. Most medicines warn against use of an active ingredient for longer than 7-10 days. Stop and ask a doctor if symptoms persist.

Safety guide for acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is safe and effective when used according to the Drug Facts label.

Because so many medicines contain acetaminophen, it is important to check the label to see which medicines contain acetaminophen and to never take more than the maximum daily dose listed on the label. You should never take more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen at a time or use it for a longer period of time than what is recommended on the label. Taking too much acetaminophen can cause an overdose and may lead to liver damage.

Ask a healthcare provider before use if:

  • You are currently using another medicine containing an internal analgesic active ingredient (e.g., aspirin, magnesium salicylate, naproxen sodium, ibuprofen, and ketoprofen).
  • You have liver disease.
  • You are taking the blood thinning drug warfarin.
  • You drink three or more alcoholic drinks a day.
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Do not use if:

  • You are currently taking any other acetaminophen-containing prescription or OTC medicine. Acetaminophen may be written as APAP on prescription labels, but it is the same active ingredient. Taking too much acetaminophen can lead to an overdose and may cause liver damage.
  • You are allergic to acetaminophen.
  • Tamper-evident packaging features such as seals, locks, and films are not clear or seem broken.

Stop use and ask a doctor if:

  • Your fever gets worse or lasts more than three days, or if your pain gets worse or lasts for more than 10 days.
  • New symptoms occur or redness or swelling is present.
  • You take too much. Immediately contact a healthcare provider or the poison control national helpline at 800.222.1222.

What are the side effects of acetaminophen?

  • Severe liver damage may occur if you take more than the maximum daily adult dosage in 24 hours, or if you drink three or more alcoholic drinks every day while using the medicine.

Learn more information about how to appropriately use medicines that contain acetaminophen at KnowYourDose.org.