December 9, 2022

Why should we be concerned about rampant paracetamol consumption?

Paracetamol is known worldwide as the “most commonly used drug”. As an over-the-counter drug, meaning it doesn’t need a prescription to dispense, paracetamol is frequently purchased and used by adults and children.

Paracetamol is very popular for relieving fever and certain acute pains, for example headaches, toothaches, etc. Sometimes it can also be used for chronic pain, for example osteoarthritis. The reason it is so popular is that it has a very good safety profile; even pregnant and breastfeeding women are sometimes prescribed paracetamol (caution: consult a doctor before giving any medicine pregnant or breastfeeding women). Paracetamol can reduce fever in children from the age of 2 months.

Because paracetamol can be purchased without a prescription, and because of its traditional use as a medicine to manage fever and mild aches, it is found in almost every home in Bangladesh. Headache? Toothache ? Back ache? No worries, just take paracetamol! But popping paracetamol like candy is not a healthy thing to do.

Despite a good safety profile, it should be understood that paracetamol has side effects like other drugs. There could be allergies, decreased blood cell count, rapid heartbeat, and many other side effects.

Long-term use or overdose (eg, 8 or more tablets/day) is very dangerous, leading to liver failure. The leading cause of liver failure in the United States is paracetamol overdose, with a high death rate. In 2015, health authorities in Australia and New Zealand issued alerts about paracetamol-induced liver damage in children.

Similar incidents have already occurred in Bangladesh. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh conducted a study. They identified that paracetamol has the potential to cause long-term liver damage. More alarming news was published in the British Medical Journal in 2015, where scientists showed that regular large daily doses over a few years can increase the risk of heart and kidney problems and increase the risk of death.

The link between regular long-term paracetamol consumption and heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke has also been highlighted by the British Heart Foundation. One of their investigators, Professor David Webb from the University of Edinburgh, said that if the patient needs to take paracetamol long-term to avoid such problems, it is best to start with a low dose and take it slowly. gradually increase over time.

But does that mean we shouldn’t take paracetamol? Of course not! We must be careful and use it wisely. If need be, we can always seek medical assistance before using this medication.

Patients should regularly check whether there is a continued need to take a medication, even if it is something like paracetamol. Always weigh the benefits and the risks. Dr. Nilesh clarified that occasional use for ≤ 3 days to manage a headache or other acute pain is perfectly acceptable unless we are taking too many tablets. If we need to use paracetamol for more than 03 days to control pain, it is best to contact a doctor.

Caution should be exercised when using any medication, including paracetamol. Medicines usually come with a package leaflet containing relevant information about the medicine; this should be read. The safest thing to do, however, is to talk to the doctor and get checked out.

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