Paracetamol (INN) (pronounced /ˌpærəˈsiːtəmɒl, ˌpærəˈsɛtəmɒl/) or acetaminophen (/əˌsiːtəˈmɪnɵfrɨn/ ( listen)) (USAN) is a widely used over-the-counter analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (fever reducer). It is commonly used for the relief of fever, headaches, and other minor aches and pains, and is a major ingredient in numerous cold and flu remedies. In combination with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioid analgesics, paracetamol is used also in the management of more severe pain (such as cancer or postoperative pain).
While generally safe for human use at recommended doses, acute overdoses (above 1000 mg per single dose and above 4000 mg per day for adults, above 2000 mg per day if drinking alcohol) of paracetamol can cause potentially fatal liver damage and, in rare individuals, a normal dose can do the same; the risk is heightened by alcohol consumption. Paracetamol toxicity is the foremost cause of acute liver failure in the Western world, and accounts for most drug overdoses in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
Paracetamol is derived from coal tar, and is part of the class of drugs known as “aniline analgesics”; it is the only such drug still in use today. It is the active metabolite of phenacetin, once popular as an analgesic and antipyretic in its own right, but unlike phenacetin and its combinations, paracetamol is not considered to be carcinogenic at therapeutic doses. The words acetaminophen and paracetamol both come from chemical names for the compound: para-acetylaminophenol and para-acetylaminophenol. In some contexts, it is simply abbreviated as APAP, for N-acetyl-para-aminophenol.
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