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Acetaminophen Pain Reliever Can Cause Liver Problems

Q. I read recently about the FDA’s warning that acetaminophen can cause serious skin reactions. I have become more alarmed, however, by the number of people being diagnosed with liver problems as a side effect, including my 30-year-old son.

We have been taking this drug as a safe alternative to aspirin without paying attention. This is a wake-up call.

A. The skin reactions associated with acetaminophen (Tylenol) are rare, but potentially life threatening. It took 50 years for that risk to become apparent.

Liver damage, on the other hand, has been clearly linked to acetaminophen for a long time. Acetaminophen in high doses or in combination with other drugs is a leading cause of acute liver failure in the U.S. (Current Gastroenterology Reports, March, 2007).

Although the maximum recommended dose is 4000 mg daily, some experts recommend lowering that ceiling to 3000 mg. People who take acetaminophen several times a week are often advised to avoid drinking alcohol, since the combination can put a strain on the liver.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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