Paracetamol is a painkiller,
more technically described as a non-opioid analgesic. As a painkiller,
it's similar in strength to aspirin, but does not have the
anti-inflammatory action of aspirin.
Paracetamol is thought to work
by blocking the production of chemicals, known as prostaglandins, which
are involved in pain transmission. But, unlike aspirin and non steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, it blocks them in the
brain not at the source of pain.
Paracetamol can be taken in
tablet, capsule or liquid form, and is also available as suppositories.
Paracetamol can be bought without a prescription from pharmacies and (in
packs of up to 16 tablets) from other shops. It's vital that you always
take it in the doses recommended on the packet. The recommend dose for
adults is 500mg to 1000mg every 4-6 hours (one to two standard tablets),
up to a maximum of 4000mg (8 tablets) in 24 hours.
Side effects are rare with
paracetamol when it is taken at the recommended doses. Skin rashes, blood
disorders and acute inflammation of the pancreas have occasionally
occurred in people taking the drug on a regular basis for a long time. One
advantage of paracetamol over aspirin and NSAIDs is that it doesn't
irritate the stomach or causing it to bleed, potential Side effects of
aspirin and NSAIDs.
Paracetamol is often contained
in branded pain relieving products (see list below) and cough and cold
remedies. These also often contain other painkillers such as codeine and
other ingredients such as caffeine or a decongestant.
The early commercial
production of paracetamol relied on the nitration of phenol to
p-nitrophenol with a reduction step to produce p-aminophenol followed by
acetylation with acetic anhydride.
In the UK, sales of
over-the-counter Paracetamol in pharmacies are restricted to packs of 32
tablets per customer per occasion (only 16 tablets in non-pharmacy
stores). In Ireland, the limits are 24 and 12 tablets respectively.