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Updated May 2022
Paracetamol is a common pain medicine used for pain relief (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.
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 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 per dose, your doctor will advise on a maximum of 3g or 4g paracetamol per day.
Liquid paracetamol is available for younger children. For over-the-counter paracetamol, the dose depends on the child’s age. Be sure to consult the dosage guide provided by the manufacturer as liquid paracetamol comes in different strengths.
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, 2pm and bedtime.
Most people who take paracetamol at recommended doses do not have side effects. It also does not increase blood pressure or increase the risk of heart attacks.
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.
Paracetamol is broken down in the liver. It is therefore important that you tell your nurse / doctor / pharmacist if you have any liver problems as the dose may need to be reduced.
Paracetamol can interact with other medications. Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any other medicines, including any medicines, vitamins, or supplements that you buy without a prescription from your pharmacy, supermarket or health food shop.
Paracetamol can be used safely with a moderate intake of alcohol. However drinking more than 4 standard drinks on one occasion, even if infrequently, is strongly discouraged.