How does acetaminophen work?


Quick Answer

Acetaminophen is an analgesic that affects the hypothalamus to prevent fevers, according to Medscape. In addition, it's thought that acetaminophen blocks nerve signals from pain nerves and reduces the amount of a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin in the central nervous system.

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Full Answer

When an individual is ill, an area of the brain called the hypothalamus induces a fever, Mayo Clinic states. This part of the brain is responsible for maintaining normal body temperature. When someone takes acetaminophen, it interacts with the hypothalamus to lower the body temperature, but may not reduce it altogether.

Another theory is that acetaminophen reduces the presence of prostaglandin, which is a hormone that causes pain by controlling inflammation, Medicinenet states. When a person takes acetaminophen, it slightly decreases prostaglandin's ability to synthesize COX-1 and COX-2, which form an essential part of pain causing pathways, according to NIH. However, the exact ways that acetaminophen operates are unclear, NIH concludes.

Individuals take acetaminophen to reduce mild pain and fevers, according to Mayo Clinic. It is available to take orally and rectally for both adults and children. In addition to swallowing it as a whole tablet, patients can take it in the form of a liquid, effervescent or powder. Users must pay close attention to dosing instructions, as they vary according to age, Mayo Clinic states.

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