Tylenol users warned of dangers in acetaminophen


When you're in pain, they make it stop, but do you over-medicate? Surveys show a quarter of Americans routinely take more over-the-counter pain pills than they should.

"We're a medicine-taking culture. We reach for a pill for all of our medical problems," said Alexander Kuo, MD, Gastroenterologist, UC San Diego Health System.

However, Dr. Alexander Kuo says the popular drug acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, can be dangerous in high doses.

"The problem is when people abuse it, when they take more than is healthy for them," Dr. Kuo said.

For healthy people, the standard dose is no more than 4,000 milligrams in a 24-hour period, but if you have chronic liver disease, it's less than 2,000 milligrams. People who drink alcohol should also be cautious since alcohol combined with acetaminophen can lower the threshold for liver damage.

The tricky part - acetaminophen is found in other meds like Nyquil, Excedrin, Sudafed, Robitussin, and Benadryl. So, you might be doubling your dose without knowing it.

"Suddenly, they've gone from a safe amount of Tylenol to an unsafe amount," Dr. Kuo said.

Acetaminophen overdose sends as many as 78,000 Americans to the ER every year, but Toxicologist Richard Clark says pain meds like ibuprofen and aspirin also carry risks.

"If you took the maximum daily dose of ibuprofen for a week or two, 30 percent of everybody is going to have microscopic hemorrhages of their stomach," said Dr. Clark.

The bottom line is they're safe is used as directed. Use in moderation, but always follow dosing instructions.

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