What Taking Tylenol Every Day Does to Your Body
Tylenol, a brand name for acetaminophen, is one of the most common over-the-counter drugs in the world, and you may be wondering what taking Tylenol every day does to your body. Inexpensive, available in a variety of forms, including tablet, chewable tablet, capsule, suspension or solution, extended-release tablet, and orally disintegrating tablet, nearly everyone has some form of it in their medicine cabinet, and use it effectively treat a variety of ailments.
"Tylenol is fine as long as you don't take too much," Darren Mareiniss, MD, FACEP, Emergency Medicine Physician at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, explains to Eat This, Not That! Health. He specifies that it is safe in adults for up to 4 grams per 24 hours. "Typically, it is dosed every 6 hours (325mg-1gm)." For children, the dose is 10-15mg/kg every 6 hours and it is weight based.
So what does taking Tylenol every day do to your body?
It Can Help Relieve Pain
Dr. Mareiniss explains that acetaminophen is the most widely used analgesic, or pain reliever. "Acetaminophen can be used to reduce pain and fever. Unlike other over the counter medications, the mechanism of how acetaminophen specifically works is not well known," adds Dr. Kenneth Perry. "For pain control, it may actually change the threshold where the body interprets pain. It does not change the cause of the pain or reduce inflammation."
Per the NIH, it can be used to treat headaches, muscle aches, menstrual periods, colds and sore throats, toothaches, backaches, and reactions to vaccinations. It can also be used to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis (arthritis caused by the breakdown of the lining of the joints).
It Can Help Reduce Fever
Dr. Mareiniss explains that it is also a frequently used antipyretic, or fever reducer. "It acts as an antipyretic (fever limiting agent) by inhibiting the hypothalamic heat regulating center in the brain," he says. "To reduce fever, acetaminophen works on the part of the brain that determines the body's temperature," says Dr. Perry. "It is this area of the brain that is affected by viruses and bacteria to increase the body's temperature causing a fever. Acetaminophen works on this area of the brain to minimize the ability of the virus and bacteria from elevating the body's temperature."
It Can Be Toxic if Taken Improperly
"As in any medication, taken inappropriately, acetaminophen can cause harm," says Dr. Perry. Because acetaminophen is found in numerous over the counter products, many people don't realize how much they are actually taking. "Many patients fail to realize the toxicity of Tylenol or realize that they may be ingesting multiple products that include acetaminophen," says Dr. Mareiniss. For example, opioids such as Percocet include acetaminophen (Tylenol). Check with your doctor if you're unsure about what's in your medications. Or read up on Tylenol's "One Only" rule, which addresses this very issue. As they say about the overall safety: "TYLENOL® is safe and effective when used as directed. The safety of TYLENOL® at recommended doses has been established through 50 years of use and scientific investigation."
It Can Cause Liver Failure or Worse—Only in Extreme Cases
In extreme cases patients who are often unaware of how much acetaminophen they are taking could seriously damage their liver. According to Dr. Mareiniss, acetaminophen overdose is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the US, accounting for 50% of reported cases. "Do not exceed the recommended dosage as it may cause liver damage," say the makers of Tylenol.
In very extreme cases, it can result in death. Dr. Mareiniss explains that for an adult, 140 mg/kg or greater than 7.5gm in a 24 hour period is considered a toxic dose. "We see these types of ingestions typical with suicide attempts," he reveals. Luckily, if the overdose is promptly identified, prognosis is good. "There are excellent outcomes when we identify toxicity within 8 hours of ingestion and are able to administer the antidote – N-acetylcysteine (NAC)," he says.
"Although taking too much may not cause long lasting harm, contacting your local poison center is a great next step—800-222-1222. The poison center will be able to guide treatment which may include going to the local emergency department," says Dr. Perry.
Final Thoughts From the Doctor
"Although acetaminophen is a very safe and effective medication, it is important to remember to follow the directions on the bottle," says Dr. Perry. "Contact your primary care doctor before starting any medication to ensure it will not interact with one of your other medications, and remember if you ever take too much and you are concerned, please come to the Emergency Department." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.