Paracetamol

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

Easy-to-read medicine information about paracetamol – what it is, how to take paracetamol safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Analgesic (pain killer)
  • Antipyretic (reduces body temperature)
  • 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).

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.  

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

Dose

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

Paracetamol tablets are available in two strengths — 500 mg tablets or 665 mg tablets.
The 665 mg tablets are used for osteoarthritis for example Apo-Osteo, Panadol Back & Neck, Panadol Osteo and Paracetamol Osteo-Tab.

  • The usual dose in adults is 500 mg to 1 gram (1 or 2 tablets) every 4 to 6 hours when required for pain.  
  • 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.
  • Do not take more than 4 grams in 24 hours. This equates to  8 x 500 mg tablets, or 6 X 665 mg tablets per day.
  • Keep track of the timing of the doses and check when it was last taken before taking it again. 

Products that have paracetamol in them

In New Zealand, paracetamol is available in liquid, tablets and suppository form. It is also found in many medicines you can buy from the pharmacy for colds and flu or pain. Overdose can happen if you take more than one paracetamol-containing medicine. Check the ingredients of cold and flu medicines before you take them. If you do take other medicines that have paracetamol, be careful not to take more than the recommended dose of paracetamol each day (4 grams in 24 hours).

Examples of medicines that have paracetamol in them

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

Overdose

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

  • If you realise you have had too much (including other products with paracetamol in it), call your doctor, nurse or the Poisons Centre  0800 POISON (0800 764 766) immediately.
  • Older people are most at risk so take extra care. 

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

Late signs may include:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhoea,
  • yellow skin or eyes,
  • poor appetite,
  • confusion or extreme sleepiness.

Learn more

New Zealand Formulary Patient Information: paracetamol

References

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