Getting older is one of life’s inescapables, although life is certainly better now for older Americans than at any other time in history. We live longer, more active lives than our parents and grandparents certainly did – today’s average 65 year-old man and woman can expect to live to be 81 and 85, respectively – and science has proven that we’re still able to learn new things, even if we don’t learn as quickly as we did in our younger years. These are all things to celebrate
Try as we may to slow down the process, however, the clock keeps ticking and eventually, the aches and pains of aging will catch up to all of us. Among the many new things older adults need to learn is how best to manage these pains safely. The most common self-care issue for older adults is pain relief, and older Americans experience chronic pain more than other age group. Learning how to use nonprescription medicines commonly used to relieve the aches and pains of aging is of particular importance.
Most people don’t realize that one of the common links across pain medicines is acetaminophen–the most common drug ingredient in America. It is found in more than 600 over-the-counter and prescription medicines. Acetaminophen is used to relieve pain from conditions such as arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, and headaches, but what most people don’t realize is that it’s also an active ingredient in many prescription and over-the-counter medicines used to provide relief from pain, allergy and cold symptoms, cough, and reduce fevers.
While acetaminophen, like other nonprescription medicines for pain, is safe and effective when used appropriately, it is possible to take too much. This can happen if you use more than one medicine for pain relief, and then need another for relief from a different condition, such seasonal allergy symptoms. Taking too much acetaminophen is an overdose and can lead to liver damage.
All Americans, regardless of how old they are, need to be aware of how to use pain relievers safely. In the case of acetaminophen, a new campaign called Know Your Dose boils it down to three steps: Know your dose. Read medicine labels and follow instructions, and never take more than the label says. Know if your medicines contain acetaminophen. Check the active ingredients on the medicine label, especially if you take multiple medicines. On prescription labels, acetaminophen is sometimes labeled as “APAP,” “acetam,” or other shortened versions of the word. On over-the-counter medicines, the word “acetaminophen” is highlighted and listed on the front of the package or on the bottle and in the active ingredient of the Drug Facts label. And never take two medicines that contain acetaminophen at the same time.
Our bodies change as we get older, and in some cases, our bodies metabolize acetaminophen differently. Health care providers and community pharmacists are important resources. They may seem busy, but they want to help. It’s important to take the time to ask for their advice.
View a list of common medicines that contain acetaminophen at KnowYourDose.org and access tips on reading over-the-counter and prescription medicine labels.