Skip to main content

What Is Acetaminophen?

Acetaminophen is a common pain reliever and fever reducer. It is one of the most common active drug ingredients in the U.S. and found in more than 500 over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines. Even if you did not know the word “acetaminophen”, you probably do know some common brands that contain acetaminophen, such as Tylenol®, Nyquil®, Dayquil®, Percocet®, and Vicodin®.

How does acetaminophen work?

Acetaminophen helps relieve pain by blocking pain signals within the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Acetaminophen works differently than NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), the other main type of pain reliever. What are NSAIDs?

What do I need to know about acetaminophen?

  • Take ONLY 1 medicine that contains acetaminophen at a time. Why? More than 500 medicines contain acetaminophen, including prescription and OTC medicines such as back pain remedies, headache remedies, sleep remedies, and cold and flu symptom treatments. If you take more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen at a time, it increases your chance of taking too much (more than 4,000 mg in 24 hours), and that could harm your liver.

OTC Medicines

OTC medicine brands that contain acetaminophen

Examples

  • Tylenol®
  • NyQuil®/DayQuil®
  • Excedrin®
  • Alka-Seltzer Plus®
  • Mucinex®
  • Robitussin®
  • Goody’s®
RX Medicines

Prescription medicines that contain acetaminophen

Examples

  • Vicodin®, Norco®, Lortab® (Hydrocodone)
  • Percocet®, Endocet®, Roxicet® (Oxycodone)
  • Tylenol® with Codeine (Codeine)
  • Fioricet® (Butalbital)
  • Ultracet® (Tramadol)

This is not a complete list of OTC and prescription brands with products that contain acetaminophen. Check the ingredients in your medicine and always read and follow the label. If you are unsure, ask your healthcare professional.

Acetaminophen is safe and effective when used as directed. For OTC acetaminophen dosage (for example, Tylenol® dosage), always read and follow the directions on the Drug Facts Label. You can also download an acetaminophen dosing chart.

Key safety tips:

  • Take ONLY 1 medicine that contains acetaminophen at a time.

  • Don’t take more than 4,000 mg in 24 hours.

  • Take the dose directed on the label and wait the right amount of time between doses to avoid harmful side effects. Get dosing chart.

  • Check the ingredients in your medicine and always read and follow the label.