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How Often Can I Take Tylenol?

We’ve all suffered from mild to moderate pain or a fever at some point in our lives, and for many of us, we’ve likely experienced pain this week! Pain and occasional fevers are a fact of life for most people, and pain medication and fever reducers can help us to feel better sooner. Tylenol is one of the most popular medications in the United States and has been treating mild to moderate pain and reducing fevers since the 1950s. It is not the same as ibuprofen, aleve, or advil, therefore, this article is only speaking about acetaminophen containing products. Today, approximately 23 percent of American adults take Tylenol or its generic form, acetaminophen, in any given week, and acetaminophen products are the most commonly used medication to relieve pain and reduce fever in children. Tylenol is generally considered safe and effective when taken as directed, but it’s important to know exactly how often you can take Tylenol and how much is safe to take.

What is Tylenol?

Tylenol, also known by the generic name acetaminophen, is a popular over-the- counter (otc) drug that is classified as an analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (fever reducer). Tylenol was first introduced as TYLENOL Elixir for children in 1955, which made it the world’s first aspirin-free pain reliever. At the time, the medication was only available as a prescription medication. Because it was a prescription drug it could only be filled by your local pharmd. Tylenol was first approved for sale without a prescription in 1959, and the brand began expanding its line of otc options in 1961. Since the medication was first released in its brand name form, it has since been produced by many manufacturers in a variety of forms under the generic acetaminophen. 

What is Tylenol Used to Treat?

Tylenol is known as a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to pain management and fever reduction. Tylenol is used to treat mild to moderate pain from many conditions, including headaches, menstrual periods, toothaches, back pain, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, or aches and pains associated with the cold and flu. Another use of acetaminophen is to also reduce a fever. Tylenol produces products that fall into six main treatment categories:

  • Headache and muscle pain: Products include extra strength coated tablets, rapid release gels, extra strength painkillers and fever reducer caplets for adults with 500 mg acetaminophen, regular strength tylenol, regular strength liquid gels, and eight-hour muscle aches and pains capsules.
  • Arthritis pain: Products include eight-hour arthritis pain for extended arthritis and joint pain relief with 650 mg acetaminophen.
  • Sinus:  Products include sinus and headache daytime caplets and sinus severe daytime pain reliever with decongestant for sinus pressure and congestion relief.
  • Cold and flu: Products include cold and flu severe for day and night time relief of fever, pain, cough and congestion; cold and flu severe medicine for relief of cold, flu, fever, cough, and congestion symptoms; cold max daytime caplets; cold and head severe caplets; cold and flu and cough - nighttime; cold and flu severe warming honey lemon liquid; cold and mucus severe cool burst liquid; cold max daytime citrus burst liquid; and cold and sore throat cool burst liquid.
  • Sleep and pain: Products include PM extra strength liquid; Simply Sleep nighttime sleep aid; and PM extra strength nighttime pain reliever and sleep aid with 500 mg acetaminophen.
  • Children and infants: Products include cold and cough and sore throat oral suspension; cold and cough and runny nose oral suspension; cold and flu oral suspension; chewables; infant Tylenol liquid medicine to relieve babies’ minor pains, headache, sore throat, and toothache; children’s Tylenol liquid medicine reduces fever and relieves pain, flu symptoms, headache, and sore throat; and dissolve packs.

How Does Tylenol Work?

The active ingredient in Tylenol is acetaminophen, which works as a pain reliever and fever reducer. Acetaminophen helps to alleviate pain by increasing the body’s overall pain threshold, which means you feel less pain. The medication works to lower fevers by helping your body eliminate excess heat by working on the heat regulating center of the brain.

How Much Does Tylenol Cost?

As previously established, Tylenol is available in nearly every form and strength you can think of and for treatment of a wide variety of conditions. However, regardless of the type of Tylenol purchased, the medication is widely considered affordable. Fifty tablets of regular strength brand name Tylenol containing 325 mg of acetaminophen costs approximately $14.14. Tylenol is also available in a generic form called acetaminophen. When purchased in the generic form, fifty pills of regular strength tablets containing 325 mg of acetaminophen will cost approximately $9.55, or about 19 cents per pill. However,  acetaminophen can be purchased in much larger quantities than brand name Tylenol, allowing you to receive a bulk discount. Purchasing 1000 pills of acetaminophen will cost between $10.50 and $29, a cost of anywhere between 1 and 3 cents per pill. 

What are the Benefits of Tylenol?

Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is the most commonly used pain medicine in the United States, and with good reason. There are many benefits associated with Tylenol, a sort of wonder drug tasked with relieving mild to moderate pain from a variety of sources. The benefits of Tylenol include:

  • Diverse uses: While some medications manage or treat only specific conditions, Tylenol has a wide variety of applications. Tylenol relieves pain associated with many different conditions, including backaches, headaches, sprains, joint pain associated with arthritis, and menstrual cramps. Tylenol also works to safely reduce fever.
  • Safety record: When used correctly, Tylenol has an excellent safety record and virtually no side effects. Tylenol can be dangerous when used by people with severe liver disease or when taken in doses exceeding the recommended maximum, but it is extremely safe when used as directed.
  • Few side effects: Another benefit of Tylenol is that it is capable of relieving pain without causing upset stomach, increased risk of ulcers, or heart problems, all of which are side effects associated with the other major type of over the counter pain relievers, a class of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). People with heart problems or stomach problems are likely to tolerate Tylenol well, provided they do not have liver issues.
  • Accessible: Tylenol and the generic form of the medication, acetaminophen, can be purchased over the counter at every pharmacy, drug store, grocery store, and big box store in the country. As the most commonly used pain medication in the United States, you’ll have no trouble finding it just about anywhere.
  • Affordable: Tylenol and the generic form of the medication, acetaminophen, are highly affordable due to the large number of manufacturers producing similar medications. When purchased in large quantities, you can pay just pennies per pill.
  • Wide variety: As previously noted, brand name Tylenol comes in a variety of different forms designed to specifically treat your symptoms in a way that is convenient for you, such as through liqui-gels, capsules, chewables, liquid, and more. Tylenol is also offered in special formulas for children and infants.
  • Compatible with aspirin: A large number of people take baby aspirin each day for heart health. Aspirin is an NSAID, and it can be negated by the use of other NSAIDs when taken together, reducing its blood thinning effects. Tylenol is compatible with aspirin and does not interfere with the medications blood thinning effects, so it is a good choice for people managing heart issues or high blood pressure with baby aspirin.

What Dose of Tylenol Should I Take?

Due to the potential for severe damage to the liver and a possible fatal overdose, it is essential that the recommended dose guidelines of Tylenol be taken very carefully. Tylenol is a very safe drug when taken as directed and when taken by people without liver problems, but it can also be extremely dangerous if used incorrectly. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the maximum allowable daily dose of Tylenol for adults is 4,000 mg, which includes all other drugs containing acetaminophen that the patient may also be taking. However, the FDA strongly suggests that adults take no more than 3,000 mg per day with no more than 650 mg every six hours as needed. Due to concerns and reports of liver damage associated with high acetaminophen dosage, Tylenol’s parent company, Johnson & Johnson, has set the maximum daily dose for extra strength Tylenol, containing 500 mg of acetaminophen, at 3,000 mg, or six pills per day, down from a previous maximum daily dose of 4,000 mg or eight pills per day. 

If you miss a dose of Tylenol, only take it if you are still several hours away for your next scheduled dose. You should never take a double dose of Tylenol to make up for a missed dose.

How Often Can I Take Tylenol?

Due to concerns and reports of liver damage associated with high doses of acetaminophen, Tylenol’s parent company, Johnson & Johnson, recommends that regular strength Tylenol be taken no more often than two pills every six hours. The previous recommendation was to take two pills every four to six hours; however, increasing concerns about the possibility of severe liver damage and fatal acetaminophen overdose necessitated a change to the medical advice.

Are There Any Side Effects Associated With Tylenol?

There are no common side effects associated with Tylenol, but this does not mean that the medication is without risk. Under rare circumstances, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, can have dangerous side effects that require medical attention. Contact your healthcare professional and seek medical treatment immediately if you experience any of the following side effects while taking Tylenol:

  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Blood or black, tarry stools
  • Sharp or severe pain in the lower back and/or side
  • Fever with or without chills that was not present prior to starting treatment with Tylenol and is not caused by the condition being treated
  • Pinpoint red spots on the skin
  • Sore throat that was not present prior to starting treatment with Tylenol and is not caused by the condition being treated
  • Skin rash, hives, or itching
  • Sores, ulcers, or white spots on the lips or in the mouth
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Yellow eyes or skin
  • Sudden decrease in the amount of urine
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness

It is possible to overdose on acetaminophen. Seek emergency medical help if any of the following symptoms of overdose occur while taking Tylenol:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach cramps or pain
  • Swelling, pain, or tenderness in the upper abdomen or stomach area

Are There Any Warnings for Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women Associated With Tylenol?

In general, Tylenol is considered safe for pregnant women. According to the USDA, there is no clear association between the use of Tylenol and birth defects, miscarriage, or adverse maternal or fetal outcomes in humans; however, animal studies have demonstrated adverse effects on pregnancy at clinically relevant doses. As with any medication, it is recommended that pregnant women speak to their doctors before taking Tylenol. 

Nursing mothers should exercise caution when using Tylenol while breastfeeding. Tylenol is excreted into breast milk, but it has been used by nursing mothers without apparent harmful effects, and the American Academy of Pediatrics considers the drug compatible with breastfeeding. However, women who have liver problems may have difficulty processing acetaminophen, so it is recommended that you speak with your doctor before taking Tylenol while nursing.

Who Should Not Take Tylenol?

People often think of Tylenol as a harmless medication that can be taken as often as you want and in a large quantity, but Tylenol can be very dangerous for some people. People with severe liver disease should not take Tylenol, as Tylenol can damage the liver and can be fatal for people with liver conditions. Tylenol should not be taken without a doctor’s advice if you have ever had alcoholic liver disease (cirrhosis) or if you consume more than three alcoholic beverages each day.  You should not take Tylenol if you are taking other medications that also contain acetaminophen, as this can cause severe liver damage or a fatal overdose. People with compromised immunity, such as individuals with HIV-AIDS, are highly susceptible to acetaminophen poisoning and severe liver failure and should use extra caution when taking Tylenol.People who are allergic to acetaminophen also should not take Tylenol. Tylenol should not be given to a baby under 12 weeks of age without the guidance of a pediatrician. 

Published April 20th, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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