Painkillers, paracetamol 

Introduction 

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Media last reviewed: 29/04/2013

Next review due: 29/04/2015

Pharmacy and medicines

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Paracetamol is a medicine that is used to:

  • ease mild to moderate pain  for example, headaches, sprainstoothache or the symptoms of a cold
  • control a fever (high temperature, also known as pyrexia)  for example, when someone has the flu (influenza)

In England paracetamol is available without prescription from a GP.

How it works

Paracetamol works as a painkiller by affecting chemicals in the body called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are substances released in response to illness or injury. Paracetamol blocks the production of prostaglandins, making the body less aware of the pain or injury.

Paracetamol reduces temperature by acting on the area of the brain that is responsible for controlling temperature.

Types of paracetamol products

Paracetamol is sold by a range of manufacturers, under many different brand names.

It is also often combined with other ingredients. For example, it can be combined with a decongestant medicine and sold as a cold and flu remedy.

Learn more in types of paracetamol.

Who can use paracetamol?

Paracetamol should be used with caution by those with liver problems, kidney problems, or alcohol dependence. Learn more in special considerations for paracetamol.

Side effects are rare, and can include rash and low blood pressure. Learn more in side effects of paracetamol.

Paracetamol may interact with some other medicines, including some medicines taken to treat cancer or epilepsy. Learn more in paracetamol interactions.

Use in children

Babies and children can be given paracetamol to treat fever or pain if they are over two months old. 

For example, one dose of paracetamol may be given to babies who are two or three months old if they have a high temperature following vaccinations. This dose may be repeated once after six hours.

Check the packet or patient information leaflet to make sure that the medicine is suitable for children and to find out the correct dose. When paracetamol is given to babies or children, the correct dose may depend on:

  • the child’s age
  • the child’s weight
  • the strength of the paracetamol - this is usually in milligrams (mg)

If your baby’s or child’s high temperature does not get better, or they are still in pain, speak to your GP or call NHS 111.

Page last reviewed: 25/06/2012

Next review due: 25/06/2014

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