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Updated April 2019
Paracetamol is a common pain killer (analgesic). It can also lower raised body temperature (fever). It is used for relief of fever, headaches, the pain of arthritis and other minor aches and pains, including pain from colds, flu and period pain.
It is thought that paracetamol works in the brain to prevent the release of substances that increase pain and temperature.
Paracetamol provides relief of pain and high temperatures within 30 minutes of taking a dose.
Examples of brand names: Dymadon, Febridol, Panadol, Panamax, Paralgin, Panadol Osteo.
There is a limit to the amount of paracetamol that can be safely taken in a 24 hour period. You MUST see your doctor as soon as possible or go to the nearest emergency department if you think you have taken too much paracetamol.
Paracetamol is usually the first medicine doctors recommend for the relief of all types of musculoskeletal pain including arthritis. Unlike ibuprofen (brand name Nurofen) and other non steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), paracetamol is not effective in reducing the inflammation associated with arthritis.
You can find out more about NSAIDs from the separate ARA information sheet on NSAIDs.
When taken regularly paracetamol may help to manage severe pain and can reduce the need for stronger pain medicines or NSAIDs. This may help reduce the side effects from these other medicines.
Paracetamol is usually taken by mouth in tablet or capsule form. It is also available as liquids and rectal suppositories.
Paracetamol usually comes in a 500mg tablet or capsule. It is also available in slow release (SR) 665mg tablets. The usual dose for adults and children 12 years and older is 2 tablets.
Liquid paracetamol is available for younger children. For over the counter paracetamol the dose depends on the child’s age.
If your child is prescribed paracetamol regularly the usual dose is 15mg per kg of body weight.
Liquid paracetamol comes in different strengths so it is very important you check the strength to ensure you don’t take or give more than is recommended.
The doses in the table below are a guide only – check with your doctor or pharmacist to determine exactly what dose you should be taking. The dose may need to be reduced if you have liver problems.
Paracetamol can be taken when needed, that is when you feel the pain, or it may be taken regularly to manage persistent pain. Regular dosing is recommended to treat the persistent pain that may be associated with arthritis.
It is usually taken every 4 to 8 hours depending on the type of preparation. For example, for arthritis the dose could be two slow release (SR) tablets every 8 hours such as 8am, 2 pm and bedtime.
The side effects of paracetamol are not increased if you take it regularly provided you do not exceed the recommended maximum daily dose.
Always follow the instructions provided in the packaging unless otherwise directed by your doctor.
If the pain or temperature is not controlled do not take more than the recommended dose. Contact your doctor so that the situation can be reassessed. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are uncertain about how often to take your medicine.
When taken regularly paracetamol may be the only painkiller needed or it may reduce the need for stronger medicines, including NSAIDs.
Treatment with paracetamol can be for a short period or long term. The side effects are not increased with long term treatment provided you do not exceed the recommended maximum daily dose.
Most people who take paracetamol at recommended doses do not have side effects. Paracetamol does not affect blood clotting, worsen asthma or affect the function of the kidneys. It also does not increase blood pressure or increase the risk of heart attacks.
Rare side effects
Effects associated with overdose Paracetamol is very safe in recommended doses but because of its wide availability in many different products, accidental overdoses can occur if precautions are not taken. Severe damage to the liver and kidneys can occur when more than the recommended dose is taken. On some occasions, overdosing of paracetamol has caused death. See Important things to remember above.