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How can people accidentally get too much acetaminophen?

Unbeknownst to many users, acetaminophen is also an ingredient in a number of commonly consumed over-the-counter drugs, such as cough and cold medicines, and in some prescription pain medications. In fact, acetaminophen is found in more than 100 pharmaceutical products. Consumers should carefully check the acetaminophen levels of any over-the-counter drugs they are taking, particularly if they are also taking a prescription medication. Many people consume the maximum daily dose in acetaminophen tablets without taking into account the acetaminophen that’s already part of their daily intake from other medications. Because the elderly tend to be on more medications, they are at particular risk.

Says Thomas Strouse, MD, medical director of the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, "Many people who stay within the recommended level of acetaminophen use don’t realize they are exceeding the limit by also taking these other medications." For example, the pain reliever Vicodin contains acetaminophen combined with the opioid hydrocodone, and Percocet, another pain medication, combines acetaminophen with oxycodone.

In June 2010, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended that the maximum recommended single dose of acetaminophen be lowered from 1,000 milligrams -- the equivalent of two extra-strength tablets -- to 650 milligrams.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.