SAN ANTONIO – Acetaminophen is one of the most common ingredients in over-the-counter medications.
It's in Tylenol and hundreds of other medicines.
But Consumer Reports warns that acetaminophen overuse sends almost 80,000 people per year to emergency rooms and is now the leading cause of liver failure in this country.
How much acetaminophen is safe is not so clear. Recommended dosages vary widely in over-the-counter drugs.
A Scottish study of more than 650 people found that repeatedly exceeding 4,000 milligrams of acetaminophen for even just a few days can cause brain, kidney and liver problems.
Daily limits on a number of products found on drugstore shelves come close to the 4,000 milligram threshold cited in the Scottish study. For example, the maximum daily dose of Mucinex Severe Cold contains 3,900 milligrams of acetaminophen. So does Dristan Cold.
Consumer Reports said to be safe, take no more than 3,250 milligrams of acetaminophen per day.
It's important to read labels and to avoid combining drugs so that you stay below that limit. And be aware that you should not take acetaminophen at all if you have liver disease or are a heavy drinker, defined as someone who regularly has three or more drinks per day.
Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration says lower dosages of acetaminophen are just as effective as extra strength dosages, so you can avoid taking more acetaminophen than you need by sticking to regular strength.