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How Paracetamol Works

little tablet - How Paracetamol Works

Modern medicine is a true marvel that is sometimes too easily taken for granted. When it comes to a safe, multipurpose compound with very few side effects when used as directed, paracetamol finds itself at the top of the list. Paracetamol is amongst the most common medicines used on a daily basis in many parts of the world. It is an over-the-counter medication that requires no prescription and can easily be bought in most supermarkets for a very low cost.

Sales of Paracetamol since the 1980’s have outstripped those of aspirin in many countries, mostly due to its ability to effectively reduce mild to moderate pain and fever without impacting upon the capacity of blood coagulation or irritating the stomach lining in the way that aspirin is known to.

Discovery and development

Paracetamol was initially discovered in 1893 and has been in widespread use since 1953. Surprisingly, for a drug that has existed for over one hundred and twenty years, science has a good understanding of the way paracetamol functions within the body, but there is still much that remains a mystery.

How does paracetamol work?

Paracetamol works as an analgesic (pain reliever) and anti-pyretic (fever reducing) agent that exhibits minimal interactions with other pharmaceutical compounds. Scientists do know that paracetamol, more correctly known as acetaminophen, works upon the brain to block prostaglandin production.

Pain and paracetamol

Prostaglandins are chemical substances that alert the central nervous system of pain and injury in the body. Paracetamol doesn’t heal the root cause of pain; it simply increases ones tolerance by greatly diminishing the effect of prostaglandins. This is why the advice is often given to consult a physician if pain persists. Pain is the body’s way of flagging a deeper problem and using painkillers to ignore it is like taping over a warning light on a car dashboard and continuing to drive, while never looking into the issue that sparked the initial warning.

Different but the same

Paracetamol is more widely known as Panadol in the United Kingdom and Oceania. In the United States it is marketed under the brands Tylenol and Datril. Although the names may vary, the active ingredient in all these tablets is acetaminophen.

Serious side-effects

Although there are few side effects when taken as directed, paracetamol can have a harmful effect upon the liver if a high dosage is consumed over an extended period of time. Anyone diagnosed with liver damage or alcoholism should consult a physician before taking paracetamol. Because paracetamol is metabolised (broken down) by the liver, it should not be taken with alcohol as the liver is often already compromised by dealing with the alcohol. Metabolising the paracetamol can put too much of a load on the liver and toxicity may build up.

Doses exceeding 1000mg four times per day are not recommended and doses as high as 5000mg can cause permanent liver damage or liver failure in as few as two days. Paracetamol is considered to be a safe drug but its threshold for an effective dose and a dangerous dose is quite close which is why anyone with a compromised liver needs to be extremely cautious when taking it.

Regardless of these small risks paracetamol is still one of the most effective painkillers used in today’s modern world and will likely to continue to hold its place as that for many years to come.