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Tylenol Use in Headaches


Updated June 11, 2014

Acetaminophen is likely the most commonly used pain reliever today. It has long been touted as a safe and effective treatment for a range of pain, from teething babies to arthritis pain. It is also a common first-choice medication in the treatment of all headaches, whether you have migraines, tension headaches, or cluster headaches. Acetaminophen use comes with some risk, however. So understanding proper dosing and potential hazards is important. As always, discuss any medication uses or changes with your healthcare provider.

How it Works

Acetaminophen is effective at reducing pain (analgesic) and fever (antipyretic). While we are not sure exactly how it works in the body, it probably interacts with prostaglandins. These are chemicals in the body that, among other things, cause inflammation and pain.

How to Take It

Acetaminophen comes in a variety of forms. It comes in tablets, capsules, gel caps, chewables, liquid, and suppositories. Be sure to take it as directed by your healthcare provider and as described on the package. It comes in many strengths, as well, so you need to be extra careful to note exactly how much you are taking. The maximum daily dose of acetaminophen is 4 g (4000 mg). Never take more than this amount in one day.


The biggest danger associated with acetaminophen is damage to the liver due to overuse or overdose. It is removed from the bloodstream by the liver, and too much acetaminophen can overwhelm the liver and cause major damage. In fact, a presentation made in 2008 at the annual Digestive Disease Week indicated that as many as 1 in 5 patients with indeterminate acute liver failure (ALF), or ALF without an apparent cause, could be due to acetaminophen.

Many minor side effects may be caused by acetaminophen, but the most dangerous side effects include rash, hives, itching, swelling of the body, hoarseness, or difficulty breathing or swallowing. These could all be signs of anaphylaxis. Be sure to discuss any changes in your health after taking acetaminophen for the first time.

Acetaminophen is also included in many over-the-counter and prescription medications. Many cough and cold preparations include it as do many narcotic pain relievers. Percocet, Vicodin, and Darvocet are just some of those medications. Fioricet is a common migraine medication that also includes acetaminophen. Be sure to confirm with your prescriber exactly how much acetaminophen you will be taking if you are one of these combination products. Many useful handouts are available at the Tylenol website for professionals. You can also visit Tylenol and safety.


Acetaminophen. U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Retrieved October 4, 2008. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a681004.html

Ault, Alicia. “Indeterminate liver failure Is often due to acetaminophen.” Family Practice News. August 1, 2008.

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