Sorting Out Acetaminophen Fact From Fear

(WIBW) - Every day, millions of people reach for a medicine containing acetaminophen.

Stormont-Vail Emergency Dept. Pharmacist Amber Howard says it's for good reason. She says acetaminophen is very good for minor aches and pains.

But you can have too much of a good thing. The Food and Drug Administration says accidental overdose of acetaminophen is the leading cause of liver failure in the U.S., sending some 56,000 Americans to the emergency room each year and causing more than 400 deaths.

Howard says people often don't realize how their doses are adding up. She says they might take a Tylenol or acetaminophen pill for a headache, then they take a cold medicine containing acetaminophen and then maybe a prescription for pain that also has it in. She says taking all that adds up to more than the recommended daily maximum amount, which is four grams.

An FDA panel is recommending reducing that daily limit. They also want to slash the maximum single dose to 650 milligrams. Currently, a dose of extra strength Tylenol contains nearly double that at 1000 milligrams.

Two prescriptions containing acetaminophen - Percocet and Vicodn - would be pulled off the market.

In addition, warning labels would be stepped up to make sure patients know what's in it and what damage can be done.

As serious as it can be, Howard says people don't need to shelve acetaminophen entirely. She says you just know what's in all the meds you're taking and take them as directed. In addition, she says acetaminophen is for occasional use and it not meant to be taken every day at the maximum dose long-term.

Howard also says be sure to tell your doctor about all the medications you're taking, including over the counter meds, because all could have interactions.

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