PARACETAMOL may seem like a harmless drug.
But the painkiller – found in every home’s medicine cabinet – is dangerous in high doses, like any other medicine.
And the NHS warns, no matter how bad your pain, don’t risk taking more than the recommended dose.
Paracetamol is the perfect remedy for all kinds of ailments, headaches, stomachaches, high temperature and menstrual cramps.
It blocks pain receptors in the body.
The NHS gives advice on how to take over-the-counter pills.
It states that the absolute maximum dose that adults can take is eight 500mg tablets in 24 hours.
These are four “doses” of one to two 500 mg tablets.
And the NHS says you should always leave at least four hours between each dose (one to two tablets).
It says: “The usual dose for adults is one or two 500mg tablets up to four times in 24 hours.”
Paracetamol can be taken safely over a long period of time – as long as you don’t take more than the recommended dose.
You can take paracetamol with or without food.
What are the risks ?
An overdose of paracetamol can cause serious side effects.
“Do not be tempted to increase the dose or take a double dose if your pain is very bad,” warns the NHS.
“Taking an extra pill or two by accident is unlikely to be harmful, as long as you don’t take more than eight pills in 24 hours.”
Patient.info says that paracetamol is the most common drug taken for overdose.
“It can lead to liver failure within days, despite the use of drugs to protect the liver. Liver failure can be fatal,” he says.
A small amount of the toxic compound NAPQI is formed in the liver when you ingest paracetamol.
This is detoxified by a substance called glutathione. However, in overdose, there is not enough glutathione and NAPQI builds up.
If you have overdosed on paracetamol, the first warning sign may be feeling sick or being sick a few hours later.
As the liver is damaged by toxins, symptoms that develop include pain in the ribs on the right side and yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
Patient.info also reports faster breathing, confusion and disorientation, and reduced urination.
If you have taken too much paracetamol, you should consult a doctor.
It is advisable to call 111 immediately if you take more than eight 500mg tablets in 24 hours.
“Taking too much paracetamol can be dangerous and you may need treatment,” warns the NHS.
What about ibuprofen?
For ibuprofen, the usual dose for adults is one or two 200 mg tablets or capsules, up to three times a day, preferably with or after a meal.
But with ibuprofen, you have to be careful not to take it too long.
The NHS says: “If you are taking tablets, capsules, granules or liquid, take the lowest dose to get your pain under control as quickly as possible.
“Do not take it for longer than 10 days (or 3 days if you are under 18) unless you have discussed it with your doctor.
“Do not use the gel, foam or spray for more than 2 weeks without talking to your doctor.”