The Truth About Acetaminophen

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]cetaminophen is an agent used in many analgesic medicines. There are many misconceptions about the dangers of acetaminophen. Additionally, the side effects of acetaminophen are not widely understood.

An analgesic is used to treat less serious cases of pain. It’s often used to relieve headaches, toothaches or pains in joints and other parts of the body. It can also reduce mild fevers, and is an ingredient in numerous over-the-counter cold and flu medicines. Seen in many ways as more desirable than aspirin, acetaminophen was approved for use in the early 1950s by the Food and Drug Administration. Today, it is found in more than 100 medical products, but the brand name for which it is best known is Tylenol, which was introduced in 1955.

The use of any analgesic containing acetaminophen is considered to be safe, providing that the dose adheres to the amount prescribed. In excessive amounts, however, the side effects of acetaminophen can include stomach bleeding. One of the identified dangers of acetaminophen is liver damage, which can in some instances be fatal. Even in patients with existing liver disease, the proper use of Tylenol does not appear to worsen the condition. As a result, Tylenol can be safely used by hepatitis patients. A potentional risk does exist if Tylenol is used in conjunction with the consumption of alcholic beverages. The medicine should be avoided or used sparingly by patients suffering from severe liver ailments, such as cirrhosis.

One study indicated that the even the proper use of Tylenol over a period of two weeks can elevate the level of the enzyme ALT, leading to temporary liver damage that can be mild to moderate in nature. As a result of this threat, medical authorities advise patients not to use Tylenol on a regular basis for more than 10 days. Tylenol can be potentially dangerous when used over a long period of time.

Tylenol poses the greatest risk to the liver because it is in this organ where most of the processing of the drug is done. In excessive amounts, the drug is not metabolized properly, leading to the formation within the liver of a toxic compound. It is this chemical change that ultimately leads to damage to the liver. In terms of liver damage, the side effects of acetaminophen can reveal themselves over a period of 12 to 24 hours, and will initially result in nausea and vomiting. Blood testing will indicate further abnormalities, but by then the patient might begin to experience abnormal bleeding or even kidney failure, and in severe cases may lapse into a coma.

The actual amount of Tylenol that is considered excessive may vary among patients. A single dose of 7,000 to 10,000 mg, which is equivalent to between 14 and 20 extra-strength tablets, can cause liver damage in the average healthy adult. However, some adults who at one time took 3,000 to 4,000 mg, or six to eight extra-strength tablets, or in a 24-hour period took 6,000 mg, or 12 tablets, have been known to experience liver damage. In children, single dose of 140 mg can be potentially harmful.


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Despite the fears displayed in some media reports, Tylenol is regarded as safe when taken at the recommended adult dose, which was recently lowered to no more than 3,000 mg in a single day. This translates into a maximum of eight extra-strength pills over a period of 24 hours. Adults who consume more than two alcoholic beverages per day have been advised not to take more than 2,000 mg, which is the amount of four extra-strength tablets, over a 24-hour period. Among patients under the age of 12, the formula recommended by experts is no more than 7 mg for each pound the child weighs, and the daily dose should not exceed 90 mg. Individuals who are being treated for liver ailments should always consult with their doctors before taking any over-the-counter medication containing acetaminophen.

In the quest to find relief from pain, there are many alternatives to medications. Such mind-body therapies as meditation, yoga and hypnosis are employed by many individuals. The chiropractic field and massage treatment employs physical manipulation and touch to heal sore joints and muscles. Acupuncture has become popular in many Western countries to deal with physiological imbalances that can cause pain. However, many Americans will continue to turn to medicines as a means of avoiding pain. This can be done safely as long as drugs are used by those who understand the potentional dangers of acetaminophen.

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The Truth About Acetaminophen 1
The Truth About Acetaminophen 3
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