Doubling up on cold, flu remedies may harm liver

Doubling up on cold, flu remedies may harm liver
More than 600 prescription and over-the-counter meds contain acetaminophen, FDA experts say.

(HealthDay)—Taking too much acetaminophen, an active ingredient in many commonly used drugs for fever and pain relief, including Tylenol, can cause liver damage, experts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warn.

People suffering from a cold or the flu may be tempted to take a combination of medicines to treat several symptoms. Used correctly, acetaminophen can be safe and effective. More than 600 prescription and over-the-counter medications contain acetaminophen, however, and doubling up on these remedies can be dangerous, the FDA cautioned. Complicating matters, signs of an acetaminophen overdose may not become apparent for days.

"If you're taking more than one medicine at a time, you may be putting yourself at risk for liver damage," Dr. Fathia Gibril, a supervisory medical officer at the FDA, said in an agency news release.

Over-the-counter medications are used by 70 percent of Americans to treat cold, and , according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The FDA stated that the maximum recommended adult dose of acetaminophen is 4,000 milligrams per day. Those who take too much acetaminophen may develop cold or flu-like symptoms.

The agency advised taking the following steps to avoid an overdose:

  • Do not take more than one over-the-counter remedy that contains acetaminophen.
  • Do not take a prescription drug containing acetaminophen in combination with an over-the-counter medication with acetaminophen.
  • Do not exceed the recommended daily dose on any medication containing acetaminophen. For infants, toddlers and children, if the appropriate dose for the child's weight or age is not listed on the label, parents or caregivers should consult the child's doctor or a pharmacist.
"When you're at the store deciding which product to buy, check the 'Drug Facts' label on [over-the-counter] cold, cough and flu products before using two or more products at the same time," Gibril added. If you're still not sure which to buy, ask the pharmacist for advice, she said.

The word "acetaminophen" is sometimes abbreviated as APAP, Acetaminoph, Acetaminop, Acetamin or Acetam. Consumers can check the FDA's website to find a list of brand-name products that contain acetaminophen.

As of January 2011, overdoses from prescription medicines containing acetaminophen accounted for nearly half of all cases of acetaminophen-related in the United States, the FDA reported. They advised that patients let their doctors know about any prescription or over-the-counter medications they are taking and also ask about the active ingredients in any new medications they are prescribed. Those with a history of liver disease also should inform their doctor before using a medication that contains acetaminophen.

In addition, acetaminophen and alcohol may be a dangerous combination. Anyone who drinks three or more alcoholic drinks per day should talk to their doctor before taking a drug that contains acetaminophen, the FDA researchers warned.

The FDA report was published online Jan. 24 on the agency's Consumer Updates page.

More information: The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about acetaminophen.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

FDA group recommends acetaminophen liver warnings

May 27, 2009

(AP) -- A Food and Drug Administration report released Wednesday recommends stronger warnings and dose limits on drugs containing the painkiller acetaminophen, citing an increased risk of liver injury.

FDA orders lower doses in prescription painkillers

Jan 13, 2011

(AP) -- Federal health regulators are limiting a key ingredient found in Vicodin, Percocet and other prescription painkillers that have been linked to thousands of cases of liver damage each year.

FDA panel to vote on painkiller restrictions

Jun 30, 2009

(AP) -- Government experts are scheduled to vote on whether Nyquil and other combination cold medications should be pulled from the market to help curb deadly overdoses.

Public confused about ingredients in pain relievers

May 03, 2011

People take billions of doses of over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol every year, but many do not pay attention to the active ingredients they contain, such as acetaminophen, according to a new Northwestern Medicine ...

Recommended for you

Most US babies get their vaccines, CDC says

Aug 28, 2014

(HealthDay)—The vast majority of American babies are getting the vaccines they need to protect them from serious illnesses, federal health officials said Thursday.

Expression of privilege in vaccine refusal

Aug 27, 2014

Not all students returning to school this month will be up to date on their vaccinations. A new study conducted by Jennifer Reich, a researcher at the University of Colorado Denver, shows that the reasons why children may ...

User comments