Feeling feverish? Muscle pain got you feeling down? How about a splitting headache? Chances are that you’ve probably bought some pills to help you curb the many aches you’ve faced, right? Well, the pills you bought could very well be paracetamol!
But wait, what is paracetamol? Paracetamol or acetaminophen is a medicine commonly used as a painkiller and helps reduce fever. Its history dates back more than a hundred years ago, back in 1893 when it was first used clinically by a physician named von Mering. However, it wasn’t commercially available in the United States until 1950 with Australia following en suite in 1956. Throughout the 1960s all the way to the 1980s, paracetamol continued to gain popularity rapidly. Due to its fast-acting nature and popularity, paracetamol became a staple in so many households around the world, with dozens of generic versions of paracetamol available today.
The question remains, however, how does paracetamol actually work? Well, the science behind the drug’s mode of action is unknown, even too many scientists. Theories suggest that paracetamol works on your nervous system. Befitting its title as a painkiller, it helps to reduce the intensity of pain signals to the brain. Concerning its antifever capabilities, it works to reduce body temperature by reducing the number of a chemical compound called prostaglandins in your body. Prostaglandins are hormones that are responsible for the occurrence of fevers when you are sick.
It is interesting to note that paracetamol isn’t the only medicine available to treat fevers and alleviate pain. Medicines including ibuprofen and aspirin are often lumped together in the same category as paracetamol as each of them is capable of relieving fevers and pains. However, the key difference between these medicines and paracetamol is that paracetamol does not possess the ability to reduce inflammations or swellings. The main drawback that these medicines possess compared to paracetamol is their side effects which are far more severe. Side effects of aspirin and ibuprofen can include stomach problems such as bleeding, ulcers, diarrhea, kidney problems, high blood pressure, and rashes. It is also not recommended to take them together or consume them regularly as it can worsen the side effects experienced.
In retrospect, paracetamol is relatively mild in terms of its side effects, which are rare, to begin with. These can include bloody stools or urine, lower back pain, red spots on the skin, and rashes. Overdosing on paracetamol is a very real danger and can lead to vomiting, swellings, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. It is advised to seek medical help the moment you experience any of these symptoms. As for its interactions with other medicines or painkillers, it is safe to be taken together provided that no additional medicines containing paracetamol are present. In general, paracetamol is usually safe to be taken and the preferred drug in treating fevers and mild pains when taken in the appropriate doses.
When it comes to taking paracetamol, there are several things to keep in mind. An adult may take one to two 500mg tablets every four to six hours, with a maximum of 4000mg in a single 24-hour period. It is important to leave at least four hours between doses to prevent overdosing. Remember, the results are not instantaneous! It will take up to an hour for the effects to kick in so hang tight before popping another tablet. It is also advisable to check if you’re allergic to paracetamol.
Children up to three months may be prescribed paracetamol but at lower dosages. The dosages for children are dependent on their weight and are often given in the form of a liquid. Paracetamol liquid is available in two strengths, 120mg in 5mL and 250mg in 5mL. Unsure of the dose to give to your kids? Check with your doctor or pharmacist on the correct dose to give to your kids. Similar to adults, wait at least four hours between doses and do not go beyond four doses in 24 hours.
In Malaysia, a study conducted with over 400 Malaysian consumers on the usage of paracetamol in their daily lives showcased that 98% of the consumers consumed paracetamol. The consumers mainly used paracetamol for headaches and fevers. 94.3% of the consumers also preferred to consume the 500mg tablets compared to the 650mg tablets.
In short, paracetamol is a popular and safe over-the-counter medication as long as the correct dosage is being administered. Though, don’t forget to check with your doctor for any inquiries prior to using it especially when it comes to dosage and efficacy. Be smart, stay safe, and stay healthy!