Even though acetaminophen has been around for quite a while, it is not fully understood exactly how it works. It is known that it works differently from any other non-prescription medication. Most other non-prescription pain relievers or fever reducers are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Both NSAIDS and acetaminophen block the body's production of prostaglandins (naturally occurring chemicals that cause inflammation and fever). However, while NSAIDS block prostaglandin production throughout the body, acetaminophen appears to do so just in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). It may also work by blocking pain signals from nerves (or preventing such signals from forming).
General considerations for when and how to take acetaminophen include the following:
- Acetaminophen comes in a variety of forms, including tablets, caplets, gel tabs, chewable tablets, and liquid. It is usually taken by mouth every four to six hours as needed.
- Two long-acting forms are also available: Tylenol Arthritis Pain and Tylenol 8 Hour. These products contain one layer that dissolves quickly for rapid pain relief and a second layer that dissolves slowly. These products are taken every eight hours.
- It can be taken with or without food. If the drug bothers your stomach, try taking it with food.
- It is important to keep track of how much you take, as it is easy to take too much (see Tylenol Poisoning). It is important to remember that acetaminophen is found in many medications (both prescription and non-prescription).
- For the medication to work properly, it must be taken as prescribed.