Paracetamol for adults

Paracetamol is a common painkiller used to treat aches and pain. It can also be used to reduce fever (38C and above).

It's also available combined with other painkillers and anti-sickness medicines. It's an ingredient in a wide range of cold and flu remedies.

For under-16s, read our information on paracetamol for children.

  1. Key facts

    • Paracetamol takes up to an hour to work.
    • The usual dose of paracetamol is one or two 500mg tablets at a time.
    • Don't take paracetamol with other medicines containing paracetamol.
    • Paracetamol is safe to take in pregnancy and while breastfeeding, at recommended doses.
    • It may be called by the brand names Disprol, Hedex, Medinol, and Panadol.
  2. Who can take paracetamol

    Most people can take paracetamol safely, including pregnant and breastfeeding women.

    However, some people need to take extra care with paracetamol.

    Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you:

    • have liver or kidney problems
    • regularly drink more than the maximum recommended amount of alcohol (14 units a week)
    • take medicine for epilepsy
    • take medicine for tuberculosis (TB)
    • take the blood-thinner warfarin and you may need to take paracetamol on a regular basis
  3. How and when to take

    The usual dose for adults is one or two 500mg tablets up to 4 times in 24 hours.

    Always leave at least 4 hours between doses.

    Overdosing on paracetamol can cause serious side effects. Don't be tempted to increase the dose or take a double dose if your pain is very bad.

    The total maximum dose of paracetamol for an adult is eight 500mg tablets in 24 hours. Wait at least 4 hours between doses.

    Adult dose (over-16s only)

    Maximum dose over 24 hours

    • have a pill     have a pill500mg   500mg
      wait 4-6 hours
    • have a pill     have a pill500mg  500mg
      wait 4-6 hours
    • have a pill     have a pill500mg   500mg
      wait 4-6 hours
    • have a pill     have a pill500mg   500mg

    Other types of paracetamol

    Paracetamol is widely available as tablets and capsules.

    For people who find it difficult to swallow tablets or capsules, paracetamol is also available as soluble tablets that dissolve in water to make a drink and as a syrup.

    What if I take too much?

    Taking one or two extra tablets by accident is unlikely to be harmful. If this happens, wait at least 24 hours before you take any more paracetamol.

    Taking more than this can be dangerous and may need treatment.

    If this happens, call 111 for advice straight away.

    If you can, take the box or leaflet inside the packet plus any remaining medicine with you to the hospital.

    What if I forget to take it?

    If you take paracetamol regularly and miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If it's close to the time for your next dose when you remember, then skip the missed dose.

    Never take double doses of paracetamol. Never take extra doses to catch up.

    If you forget doses often, it may help to set an alarm to remind you. You could also ask your pharmacist for advice on other ways that are suitable for you and your medicines.

  4. Taking paracetamol with other painkillers

    It's safe to take paracetamol with other types of painkiller that don't contain paracetamol, such as ibuprofen, aspirin and codeine.

    Don't take paracetamol alongside other medicines that contain paracetamol. If you take 2 different medicines that contain paracetamol, there's a risk of overdose.

    Pharmacy remedies that contain paracetamol include some:

    • migraine remedies
    • cough and cold products, such as Lemsip and Night Nurse

    Paracetamol may also be combined with other painkillers in medicines that have been prescribed by your doctor, such as:

    • co-codamol (paracetamol and codeine)
    • co-dydramol (paracetamol and dihydrocodeine)
    • tramacet (paracetamol and tramadol)

    Before taking any other medicines, check the label to see whether they contain paracetamol.

  5. Side effects

    Paracetamol very rarely causes side effects if you take it at the right dosage.

    If you're worried about a side effect or notice anything unusual, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

    You can report any suspected side effect to a UK safety scheme.

  6. Pregnancy and breastfeeding

    Paracetamol is the first choice of painkiller if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

    It's been taken by many pregnant and breastfeeding women with no harmful effects in the mother or baby.

    However, for safety, if you take paracetamol in pregnancy or while breastfeeding, take it for the shortest possible time.

  7. Common questions