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Paracetamol has been around a long time, despite this, amazingly, we don’t really
understand how it works as a painkiller. There is increasing evidence that most of
its action is in the brain. On it’s own, Paracetamol is quite good for mild pain.
It’s also used in combination with certain other drugs (e.g. Co-codamol or Tramacet
where it is mixed with Codiene or Tramadol respectively); this can improve its painkilling
action. Some studies have shown these combinations can be at least as effective as
low doses of Morphine.
The main drawback with Paracetamol is its harmful effect if too much is taken. Our
bodies get rid of Paracetamol by using chemicals made by the liver. If large amounts
of Paracetamol are taken, the chemical used by the liver to break down Paracetamol
can run out. While the liver is trying to make more of this chemical it uses a substitute
break down chemical. This substitute chemical makes a poisonous compound which can
damage the liver so badly that it won’t recover. People die each year as a result.
If Paracetamol is taken in normal doses there is very little risk.