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What is acetaminophen?

A drug that reduces pain and fever (but not inflammation).

Class of drug

It belongs to the family of drugs called analgesics.

Brand name

Common brand name is Tylenol. Also called APAP.

Children's acetaminophen
Children's acetaminophen

Mechanism of action of Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen (a seet" a min' oh fen), which is known as paracetamol in Europe, is an aminophenol that is believed to act centrally as an analgesic and antipyretic agent.


While technically a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), acetaminophen unlike typical NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, indomethacin) has only minor effects on tissue cyclooxygenase activity (Cox-1 and Cox-2) and appears to produce analgesia by increasing pain thresholds, perhaps through inhibition of the nitric oxide pathway which is activated by many pain neurotransmitter receptors.

Less anti-inflammatory

Acetaminophen has lower anti-inflammatory activity than aspirin or typical NSAIDs.


Acetaminophen is typically recommended for management of minor aches and pains from the common cold, viral and bacterial infections, sinusitis, headache, toothache, back ache, muscle strain, tendonitis, osteoarthritis, trauma or menstrual cramps.

OTC availability

Acetaminophen has been available as an over-the-counter preparation in the United States since 1960.

IV formulation

In 2011, an intravenous formulation of acetaminophen was approved in the United States for adults and children above the age of 2 years.


The recommended oral dose is 660 to 1000 mg every 4 to 6 hours, but should not to exceed 3 grams per day. Multiple generic formulations of acetaminophen are available (e.g., Tylenol, Anacin Aspirin Free, Feverall, Neopap, Panadol and Tempra) in capsules or tablets of 330 or 500 mg each.

Children formulations

Liquid formulations for children are available in concentrations that vary from 15 to 100 mg/mL; the dosage in children should be carefully chosen and kept to less than 75 mg/kg/day.

Part of other drug combinations

In addition, acetaminophen is a frequent component in many over-the-counter and prescription combinations with decongestants and/or antihistamines for cold and allergy symptoms, or as a sleeping aid and with other analgesics (such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, dilaudid and codeine) for moderate-to-severe forms of pain.


Common products in the United States include: Tylenol-PM, Nyquil, Darvocet, Vicodin, and many others.


Acetaminophen is one of the most commonly used medications in the United States and more than 25 billion doses are sold yearly.


Taking more than the recommended doses of acetaminophen can lead to overdose. Adults should not take more than 3000 mg of Acetaminophen per day, less if they have other health problems such as liver or kidney problems.

Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Abdominal pain, upset stomach
  • Appetite loss
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Sweating

Learn more about Acetaminophen

Latest research - Acetaminophen

Clinical trials

External links

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