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Patient knowledge of the paracetamol content of over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics, cough/cold remedies and prescription medications


Aims To test, by completion of a simple questionnaire, patient knowledge of whether 15 commonly used over-the-counter and prescription analgesics and cough/cold remedies contained paracetamol and patient knowledge of the 4 g maximum daily dose of paracetamol.

Methods Patients in the emergency department triage waiting area of a busy London teaching hospital were asked to complete a standardised one-page questionnaire. From a list of 15 commonly used over-the-counter and prescription products, patients were asked which contained paracetamol, responding ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not sure’ for each. They were also asked to state the recommended maximum daily dose of paracetamol.

Results 910 patients were enrolled in the study (mean age 39 years, 53% women). The mean±SD score was 6.5±2.5. The maximum score was 14 (n=2) and the minimum score was 0 (n=11). For the recommended maximum daily dose, 93.7% (n=853) of patients gave an answer. Of these, 53.8% answered correctly, 4.7% quoted a supratherapeutic dose and 41.5% a subtherapeutic dose.

Conclusions Patient knowledge of paracetamol-containing products and of the maximum daily dose is currently insufficient to ensure safe use of the drug. Interventions are required to address these knowledge gaps to prevent unintentional repeated supratherapeutic ingestion of paracetamol. These interventions could include targeted public education and/or appropriate and effective medication labelling.

  • Paracetamol
  • acetaminophen
  • patient knowledge
  • analgesia
  • drug safety
  • emergency department
  • analgesia/pain control
  • mental health
  • overdose
  • toxicology

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