Taking Tylenol for Headaches

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woman taking Tylenol for headache
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Tylenol (acetaminophen) is one of the most commonly used pain reliever today and has long been touted as a safe and effective treatment for a range of pain, from teething babies to arthritis pain. Not surprisingly, Tylenol is also a common first-choice medication in the treatment of headaches, especially tension-type headaches.

That said, Tylenol use comes with some risk. So understanding proper dosing and potential hazards is important. As always, discuss any medication uses or changes with your healthcare provider.

How It Works

Tylenol is classified as an analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (fever reducer). It is believed to work by interacting with prostaglandins, chemicals in the body that cause inflammation and pain.

According to research from the Cleaveland Clinic, acetaminophen is superior to ibuprofen when it comes to treating headaches. It is particularly effective at easing tension-type headaches.

A 2016 study published in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found acetaminophen effectively reduces symptoms of tension-type headaches with most subjects achieving pain relief in two hours.

Acetaminophen is also useful for treating mild to moderate migraines. However, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Headache, acetaminophen is most effective for migraine when combined with aspirin and caffeine, such as the formulation for Excedrin migraine.

Dosage

Tylenol is available over-the-counter in tablets, capsules, gel caps, chewables, liquid, and suppositories.

The standard adult dose for Tylenol is two 325 mg capsules every 6 hours, not to exceed 10 tablets in 24 hours. The maximum daily amount of acetaminophen should not exceed 4,000 mg.

Like all medication, take it as directed by your healthcare provider or as instructed on the package. Tylenol comes in different strengths, so you need to be extra careful to know exactly how much you are taking.

Warnings

Tylenol is typically a safe and very well-tolerated pain medication, but like all medications, there are things to watch out for, which is why it's important to stick with your doctor's guidance.

The biggest danger associated with Tylenol is damage to the liver due to overuse or overdose. This may occur because Tylenol is normally removed from the bloodstream by the liver.

Too much Tylenol can overwhelm the liver and cause major damage, even liver failure. Do not drink alcohol while taking Tylenol, which can place additional stress on the liver.

There are a number of minor side effects linked to Tylenol use, but the most dangerous side effects include rash, hives, itching, swelling of the body, hoarseness, or difficulty breathing or swallowing. These symptoms and signs could all be signs of a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.

Tylenol is included in many over-the-counter and prescription medications like cough and cold preparations and opioid pain relievers. In other words, the dosage of your Tylenol can add up. This is why, in 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limited the amount of Tylenol in combination prescription medications to 325mg in order to protect patients.

Rebound Headaches

For people with chronic headaches, taking over-the-counter pain relievers can result in a rebound headache. Caused by medication overuse, rebound headaches tend to occur every day or every other day and typically start in the morning, resolve after taking medication, the return when the medication wears off.

If you usually have two or more headaches a week or need more than the recommended dose to relieve your pain, talk to your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

While Tylenol is generally a sensible and effective option for tension headache relief, be cautious about how much Tylenol or any other headache medication you are taking over time.

On a final note, it's also a good idea to think about what triggered your headache in the first place, like sleep deprivation or hunger. Eating a healthy snack or getting some shut-eye can be incredibly refreshing and may even alleviate that nagging headache without having to take any medication. 

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