Paracetamol for adults

Sounds like 'paa-ra-SEE-ta-mol'

Easy-to-read medicine information about how to take paracetamol safely.

Note: This information is about paracetamol use in adults. For information about giving paracetamol to babies and children, see paracetamol for children

On this page, you can find the following information:

What is paracetamol?

Paracetamol is used to treat different types of pain including headache, migraine, period pain and aches and pains associated with colds and flu. It is the most commonly used pain relief medicine in New Zealand. Paracetamol is also used to treat fever but mild fever does not need to be treated unless it is causing discomfort. Read more about pain relief medication.   

Examples of paracetamol brands in New Zealand
  • Panadol®
  • Ethics Paracetamol®
  • Paracare®
  • Pharmacare Paracetamol®
  • Apo-Osteo®
  • Panadol Back & Neck®
  • Panadol Osteo P®
  • Paracetamol Osteo-Tab®
Paracetamol is also in some other medicines such as cold and flu medicines and in pain-relief medication (see below for examples).

Dose

Paracetamol tablets are available in 2 strengths — 500 mg tablets or 665 mg tablets. The dose of paracetamol will depend on the strength you are taking. 

Paracetamol can be safely used by adults, including if you are pregnant, but there is a limit to the amount of paracetamol that you can safely take in a 24-hour period. Taking more than the daily limit is very harmful to your liver. For adults, the usual maximum dose is 4 grams per day. This may be less if you are frail or elderly.

500 mg tablets (also called immediate-release tablets)

  • Dose: The usual dose in adults is 500 mg to 1 gram (1 or 2 tablets) every 4–6 hours when required for pain.
  • Timing: Depending on the reason you are taking paracetamol, your doctor may advise that you take regular doses or take it only when you need it for pain relief. Wait at least 4 hours between doses. Keep track of the timing of your doses and check when it was last taken before taking it again.
  • Maximum: The most you can take is 4 doses in 24 hours. This equals 8 tablets per day. Do not take more than 4 grams in 24 hours.
  • How long: Do not take this medicine for longer than a few days at a time unless advised by a healthcare professional.
  • Other products: Do not give or take with other products containing paracetamol. Many medicines you can buy from the pharmacy for colds and flu or pain contain paracetamol.

665 mg tablets (also called modified-release tablets)

The 665 mg tablets are used for osteoarthritis.

  • Examples: Apo-Osteo, Panadol Back & Neck, Panadol Osteo and Paracetamol Osteo-Tab.
  • Dose: The usual dose in adults is 2 tablets every 6–8 hours when required for pain.  
  • Timing: Depending on the reason you are taking paracetamol, your doctor may advise that you take regular doses or take it only when you need it for pain relief. Wait at least 6 hours between doses. Keep track of the timing of your doses and check when it was last taken before taking it again.
  • Maximum: The most you can take is 3 doses in 24 hours. This equates to 6 tablets per day. Do not take more than 4 grams in 24 hours. 
  • How long: Do not take this medicine for longer than a few days at a time unless advised by a healthcare professional.
  • Other products: Do not give or take with other products containing paracetamol. Many medicines you can buy from the pharmacy for colds and flu or pain contain paracetamol.
  • Swallow the tablets whole. Do not crush or chew them.
  • Not recommended for: Not to be taken by adults weighing less than 60 kg, heavy alcohol drinkers or people with liver problems, malnutrition or severe COPD.

Overdose can happen if you take more than one paracetamol-containing medicine

Paracetamol is found in many medicines you can buy from the pharmacy for colds and flu or pain.  

Examples of medicines that have paracetamol in them

  • Codral®
  • Coldrex®
  • Lemsip®
  • Maxigesic®
  • Panadeine®
  • Sudafed PE®

Check the ingredients of cold and flu medicines before you take them. If you do take other medicines that have paracetamol in them, be careful not to take more than the recommended dose of paracetamol each day (4 grams in 24 hours). Check with your pharmacist if you are not sure whether a product contains paracetamol. 

Paracetamol overdose is a medical emergency

Paracetamol is a very popular medicine and when taken correctly works well. However, too much paracetamol is very harmful to your liver.

If you realise you have had too much paracetamol (including from other products with paracetamol in them), call your doctor, nurse or the Poisons Centre  0800 POISON (0800 764 766) immediately.

Do NOT wait for signs of an overdose as these appear late when the damage to your liver is already done.

Late signs may include:

  • nausea (feeling sick) or vomiting (being sick)
  • diarrhoea (runny poo)
  • yellow skin or eyes
  • poor appetite
  • confusion or extreme sleepiness.

Older people are most at risk, so should take extra care. 

Learn more

The following links have more information on paracetamol:

Paracetamol (Māori) NZ Formulary Patient Information

References

  1. Paracetamol NZ Formulary
  2. Paracetamol dosing for children in primary care BPAC, NZ, 2018
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 28 Mar 2018