Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. It’s caused by the hepatitis C virus, a highly contagious virus that’s passed through the blood. If you’ve been diagnosed with hepatitis C, you may wonder whether it’s still safe to take certain medications. You may be extra concerned about drugs that can affect your liver, such as acetaminophen. This is a valid concern. All people have a risk of liver problems when using acetaminophen, but the risk is higher for those with hepatitis C.
Many people use acetaminophen often to treat headaches or other pain. This drug can be prescribed by your doctor, or purchased as an over-the-counter (OTC) drug. You don’t need a prescription to buy the OTC version.
While acetaminophen is generally safe and effective, it can cause serious liver damage if not used correctly. Taking more acetaminophen than your body can process can lead to an overdose. This often occurs when someone takes large doses of the drug for many days in a row.
An overdose can damage your liver. Like other drugs, acetaminophen is broken down in your liver. If you take too much acetaminophen for long periods, it starts to build up in your liver. This buildup damages your liver cells.
This risk is not just for people with liver problems. People without liver disease can have liver damage or even liver failure after taking too much acetaminophen. Healthy people who have overdosed on this drug have needed liver transplants, and some have even died.
Because of these risks and your hepatitis C, you need to be very careful about taking acetaminophen.
OTC packages of acetaminophen list a maximum daily amount that’s safe for most people. The highest suggested dosage is 3,250 mg per day. That equals six 500-mg tablets within 24 hours. This standard applies to healthy adults of average size.
If you have hepatitis C, that amount of acetaminophen could be too much. You need to know how much is safe for you personally. To find out, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They’ll know about your disease as well as your other health concerns. They may tell you it’s OK to take acetaminophen sometimes. They may suggest taking it only for short periods of time, such as a few days in a row. They may also ask you to have regular lab tests to make sure your liver is working well. In addition, they can suggest a dosage that fits your individual needs.
It’s very important to follow this guidance. You’re at higher risk of overdose from a smaller amount of acetaminophen. And you could have worse effects from an overdose. One study showed that people with hepatitis C have a much higher risk of liver failure or death after an overdose of acetaminophen.
Note: Be sure to avoid drinking alcohol when taking acetaminophen or any drug that affects your liver. Both alcohol and acetaminophen are processed through the liver. Even a healthy person can have liver problems from using them together. But you’re at even higher risk with hepatitis C.
Because you need to watch how much acetaminophen you take, you should know that it appears in many medications. There are many OTC products besides pain relievers that contain acetaminophen. These products include medications to treat the common cold, sinus pain, headaches, or other conditions.
In fact, you can buy two or three medications to treat your cold and get a huge dose of acetaminophen without even knowing. Be sure to carefully read the package label of any drug you buy. And remember that you can always ask your doctor or pharmacist for guidance.
When you have hepatitis C, your liver is always at risk. It’s best to avoid taking any drug unless your doctor or pharmacist says it’s OK and tells you what dosage to take. This applies to both OTC and prescribed drugs, including acetaminophen. Your doctor or pharmacist can provide guidance about this or any other drug to help keep you safe while living with hepatitis C.