Acetaminophen and Liver Risk: FAQ

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An FDA advisory committee recently recommended that the FDA set certain limits on WebMD’s news story, filed on the day of the committee vote.

Are those recommendations now in effect?

No. FDA advisory committees make recommendations, but they don’t set policy. That’s the FDA’s job.

The FDA has the final word on how to handle acetaminophen. The FDA often follows the advice of its advisory committees, but it’s not required to do so. It could accept some, all, or none of the recommendations.

When will the FDA make its decision on acetaminophen?

There is no set deadline for the FDA to do that. It could take months. When the FDA acts on acetaminophen, WebMD will cover that news.

How can I take drugs containing acetaminophen safely?

The key with acetaminophen — or any other drug — is to take it exactly as instructed by your doctor or the drug label. Taking too much, even a little too much, is risky, even if you didn’t need a prescription to get it.

Here are some specific tips from the FDA’s web site:

  • Read all the information given to you by your doctor and follow directions.
  • Follow directions on the “Drug Facts” label of over-the-counter products.
  • Be sure you understand the dose (how much acetaminophen you can take at one time), how many hours you must wait before taking another dose of acetaminophen, how many doses of acetaminophen you can take safely each day, and when to stop taking acetaminophen and ask a doctor for help.
  • Never take more than directed, even if your pain or fever isn’t any better.
  • Never take more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen.
  • Check the active ingredients of all your medicines to make sure you’re taking no more than one medicine containing acetaminophen at a time.
  • Know that some prescription drug labels may abbreviate acetaminophen as “APAP.” The same precautions still apply.
  • Talk to your doctor before taking acetaminophen if you drink alcohol, have liver disease, or take the blood thinner warfarin.

Can I safely give acetaminophen to my child?

Yes. The same principles that apply for adults also apply to children, and teens:

  • Don’t take more than the recommended amount.
  • Don’t take more than one medicine containing acetaminophen. That includes prescription and nonprescription (over-the-counter) products.
  • Follow directions strictly.

The FDA recommends also taking these steps when giving acetaminophen to children:

  • Choose the right medicine based on the child’s weight and age. Check the “Directions” section of the “Drug Facts” label on over-the-counter products to see if the medicine is right for your child, how much medicine to give, how many hours to wait before giving another dose, and when to stop giving acetaminophen and ask a doctor for help.
  • Use measuring tools that come with the medicine. Don’t use a spoon that’s meant to be used for cooking or eating. If you don’t have the measuring tool that came with the medicine, ask your pharmacist for one.
  • Keep a record of what doses you gave the child and when.
  • Keep all medicines where they can’t be seen or reached by children — a locked box, cabinet, or closet is best.

What if I take too much acetaminophen?

Call 911 or Poison Control (800-222-1222) immediately to find out what to do, even if you aren’t sick. The FDA notes that the signs and symptoms of liver damage may not be noticeable for hours or even days after taking acetaminophen, and by the time you notice changes, you may already have severe liver damage that could lead to death.

What if I’m taking a prescription medication, such as Percocet or Vicodin, that combines acetaminophen with other drugs? Will my medication be taken off the market?

It’s up to the FDA to decide that. That decision hasn’t been made yet. When it is, WebMD will bring you that news.