Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

What Is it?
First Aid

What is acetaminophen?

Bottle of acetaminophenAcetaminophen is a medication used to treat pain or fever. It is most commonly known by the brand name Tylenol.

You can buy acetaminophen over the counter, without a prescription from your health care provider.

Acetaminophen is also found in many cold and flu medications. Some prescription pain medications, like Percocet, include both acetaminophen and an opioid. The label on the product will tell you whether it contains acetaminophen.

Acetaminopen is safe when used in the right amount. It can be harmful if you take too much. Common ways people get too much acetaminophen include:

  • Taking more Tylenol than the medication label recommends
  • Taking Tylenol and also taking another medication that includes acetaminophen, such as Nyquil or Percocet

Poison centers get more calls about people taking too much acetaminophen than any other medication.

What happens if you take too much acetaminophen?

Taking too much acetaminophen can harm your liver. In large amounts it can make your liver stop working, which can kill you.

Don’t wait for symptoms before getting help. Only a few people who take too much acetaminophen have symptoms, such as stomach upset or stomach pain, and most people who take too much do not notice any problems in the first 24 hours.

What should I do if someone took too much acetaminophen?

If you think you or someone else has taken too much acetaminophen, do not wait for symptoms. Call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.

The poison center will tell you if you need to go to the hospital. We can also answer other questions you have about acetaminophen or medications with acetaminophen in them.

How can you prevent acetaminophen poisonings?

  • Read the label on the bottle each time you take the medication. The label will tell you what the medication is, what it is for, how much to take and possible problems you could have.
  • Compare the active ingredients in all your medications. Make sure you are not taking acetaminophen in more than one medication.
  • If you have any questions about your medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist, or contact the poison center—call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.
  • See our medication page for more medication safety tips, including information on keeping young children and teens safe.

Downloadable resources

Further reading

Blog post: How much Tylenol can you give your baby?

Last Updated: Friday October 30th 2015