Last published: December 07, 2023
What is paracetamol?
Paracetamol is a pharmaceutical drug, which is use to treat a number of conditions including:
- mild pain
- strong pain (when combined with codeine)
- colds and flu (when combined with antihistamines and decongestants).1
Some people use paracetamol by intentionally taking more than the recommended dose, or as an act of self-harm.2
What does paracetamol look like?
Paracetamol is available in the following forms:
- Soluble powders
Paracetamol may also be known by its brand or trade names. Some common examples include:
|Dymadon®, Lemsip®, Panadol®, Panamax®, Tylenol®
|Paracetamol and codeine
|Panadeine Forte®, Panamax Co®
|Paracetamol, codeine and doxylamine
|Mersyndol® and Mersyndol Forte®, Panalgesic®
How is paracetamol used?
Paracetamol is commonly swallowed. In the healthcare setting it can be injected or inserted in the rectum.
Effects of paracetamol
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk – even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Paracetamol affects everyone differently, based on:
- size, weight and health
- whether the person is used to taking it
- whether other drugs are taken around the same time
- the amount taken.
The most common side effects of paracetamol are:
- drowsiness and fatigue
- rashes and itching.1
Children may occasionally experience low blood sugar and tremors, and feeling hungry, faint and confused after taking paracetamol.1
If the dose is too high or the recommended daily dose is exceeded, an ambulance should be called straight away by dialling triple zero (000). Overdose symptoms, listed below, usually only occur 24 hours after taking the drug. An antidote can be administered if the ambulance is called soon after taking paracetamol.
- Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting
- Liver problems
- Coma and death.
Death from paracetamol overdose can take between two and four days and is usually due to liver failure.2
Regular use of paracetamol may eventually cause the following effects. It’s best to discuss the side effects of long term use with a medical practitioner.
- Bluish tinge to fingers and lips
- Anaemia (low red blood cell count)
- Liver and kidney damage1
Tolerance and Dependence
Paracetamol does not produce tolerance or dependence, though some people may develop a psychological dependence on the drug.1
Mixing paracetamol with other drugs Paracetamol + alcohol: regular heavy drinkers are advised to limit their use of paracetamol as it can cause severe liver damage, resulting in death.1
If your use of alcohol or other drugs is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situations, or you’re concerned about a loved one, you can find help and support.
Call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 for free and confidential advice, information and counselling about alcohol and other drugs
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- Upfal J. The Australian drug guide. 7th ed. Melbourne Black Inc.; 2006.
- Tittarelli R Pellegrini MSMMEBVdLNBFZS. Hepatotoxicity of paracetamol and related fatalities. European review for medical and pharmacological sciences 2017;21:95-101.