Acetaminophen, found in painkillers, may cause bodily harm, death when taken in excess

Dylanne Petros and Dylanne Petros

When freshman Cameron Moore takes Tylenol for his headaches, he often takes more pills than the label suggests.

“Everyone always takes more [than the recommended dosage],” he said.

The recommended dosage of acetaminophen, according to the FDA, is 3,250 milligrams a day.

“That’s about 10 regular-strength pills a day,” said Faith Yingling, director of Wellness.

Taking more than the recommended dose of acetaminophen can lead to many problems.

“A large dosage of acetaminophen can lead to problems of the liver,” Yingling said.

Problems of the liver include needing a liver transplant and liver failure. Taking too much acetaminophen can also lead to death, said Mary Jon Ludy, assistant professor in the Dietetics and Family and Consumer Sciences Department.

Acetaminophen is commonly found in Tylenol and generic pain relievers and is used as a pain reliever and fever reducer, Yingling said.

The recommended dosage of Tylenol is two pills every six hours.

Acetaminophen is not only found in Tylenol but also in NyQuil, Alka-Seltzer Plus, Theraflu and Vicodin, Yingling said.

“You may be taking these products but you might not realize that there is acetaminophen in it,” Yingling said.

The reason that acetaminophen is “hidden” in other medicines is so the other medicines work faster, Ludy said.

People who overdose on acetaminophen may experience “nausea, vomiting [and] diarrhea,” Ludy said.

“I don’t know if it is common anymore but when I was a student there was always the thing where ‘I will take a Tylenol before I go out drinking,’” Ludy said.

For student Max Messinger, taking a Tylenol before a night of drinking is the norm.

“I take it only to not have a bender,” Messinger said.

Even though people may take Tylenol before a night of drinking, it can actually be more toxic than just drinking.

“[The] combination of alcohol and acetaminophen can make the acetaminophen toxic in lower doses,” Ludy said.

Just like if people mix acetaminophen with something else, mixing two different pills that have acetaminophen is just as toxic.

“Medications play against each other when they both have acetaminophen,” Ludy said.

If students aren’t sure how much acetaminophen their medications contain, they can always check the label or talk to a pharmacist.

“That’s why it’s really important to talk to your health care provider about these things,” Yingling said.