When can I take paracetamol?
You can take paracetamol for:
- mild to moderate pain, for example backache, headache, migraine, muscle strains, period pain, toothache and aches and pains due to colds and flu
- fever (high temperature)
- osteoarthritis and other painful, non-inflammatory conditions.
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Visit healthdirect’s list of medicines that contain paracetamol to find out more about a specific medicine.
The dose of paracetamol for adults is:
- one or two 500mg tablets every four to six hours
- up to a maximum of eight tablets in 24 hours.
- one or two 665mg tablets every eight hours
- up to a maximum of six tablets in 24 hours.
It's dangerous to take more than eight 500mg or six 665mg tablets in 24 hours as you may damage your liver, which may be irreversible and fatal.
Paracetamol is sold under a variety of brand names, which can be confusing and lead to someone taking more paracetamol than the safe recommended level. Check the pack before taking any medication.
Can paracetamol be given to children?
Paracetamol may be given to children from one month of age for pain and fever. Follow the dose instructions that come with the pack and seek medical advice if symptoms are severe or get worse.
The routine use of paracetamol before, or at the time of, immunisation is no longer recommended due to the use of better vaccines with fewer side effects. Discuss using paracetamol with your doctor or pharmacist if you are concerned about the side effects of immunisation, like pain and fever.
If your child has a temperature higher than 38.5°C and this is making them uncomfortable, paracetamol can be given to help ease any discomfort. Seek medical advice if the fever does not get better.
A doctor may advise regular paracetamol for infants younger than one month old, but don't give regular paracetamol to an infant as young as this unless advised to do so by a doctor.
How does paracetamol work?
Paracetamol has been in general use for more than 50 years, but the way it works to reduce pain and fever is not fully understood. Paracetamol begins to ease pain and lower a high temperature about 30 minutes after a dose is taken. Its effects usually last for about four to six hours.
When should I not take paracetamol?
Don't take paracetamol if you:
- have an allergy to paracetamol
- are taking other paracetamol containing medicines, such as codeine combinations, migraine preparations and some cough and cold remedies, because of the risk of overdosing with paracetamol
- have already taken eight 500mg or six 665mg tablets within a 24-hour period.
Check with your doctor or a pharmacist before taking paracetamol if you have:
- liver problems
- kidney problems.
Can I take paracetamol with my other medicines?
Don't take paracetamol if you are also taking other medicines that contain paracetamol, such as codeine combinations, migraine preparations and some cough and cold remedies, because of the risk of overdosing on paracetamol. This may damage your liver and can be fatal.
Paracetamol won’t interact with many other medicines if only taken for a few days for pain or fever.
It’s also safe to take paracetamol if you are on antibiotics.
However, to check paracetamol is safe to take with your other medicines, it’s important to ask your doctor or a pharmacist, or read the information leaflet that comes with your medicine.
Paracetamol is the recommended painkiller for people taking warfarin.
Long-term use of paracetamol may increase the effect of warfarin, which can increase the risk of bleeding. However, this is unlikely to happen with the occasional use of paracetamol.
Can I take paracetamol if I’m pregnant?
Paracetamol is considered the first choice of painkiller if you are pregnant since it has been taken by large numbers of pregnant women without any adverse effect on the mother or baby.
However, if you take paracetamol when pregnant, make sure you take it for the shortest possible time.
Can I take paracetamol if I’m breastfeeding?
Paracetamol is the first choice of painkiller if you are breastfeeding.
It appears in breast milk in very small amounts which are unlikely to harm your baby.
If you take paracetamol when breastfeeding, make sure you take it for the shortest possible time.
What are the possible side effects of paracetamol?
People react differently to medicines. Just because a side effect is listed doesn't mean you will experience the side effect.
Side effects from paracetamol are rare but include:
- blood disorders
- liver and kidney damage (when taken at higher than recommended doses).
Will paracetamol affect my driving?
Paracetamol is unlikely to affect your driving.
Is it okay to drink alcohol when I’m taking paracetamol?
Drinking a small amount of alcohol is unlikely to be harmful if you are taking paracetamol.
Are there any foods I should avoid?
There are no known interactions with food.
What if I forget to take a dose?
If you forget to take your dose of paracetamol, the general advice is:
Take the dose as soon as you remember, and then the next dose at least four hours later. Doses of paracetamol should be at least four hours apart. Don't take more than eight tablets in 24 hours.
Check the information leaflet that comes with your medicine. It should give you advice about what to do.
What if I accidentally take an extra dose?
If you accidentally take an extra dose of paracetamol, miss the next dose so you do not take more than eight tablets in 24 hours. Then carry on as normal. If you feel unwell or are concerned, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 or contact your doctor.
If you have taken more than the recommended total daily dose of paracetamol, seek advice immediately, even if you feel well. Go to your nearest hospital emergency department (ED) and seek urgent medical attention.
Asking about your treatment or medication is important to help you understand your options. Read our guide of important questions to ask your pharmacist or doctor before taking a medicine.
You can also visit healthdirect's list of medicines that contain paracetamol to read the Consumer Medicines Information for the brand of paracetamol prescribed.
Last reviewed: October 2016