Why Do Americans Call Paracetamol Acetaminophen (or Tylenol)?

paracetamol and acetaminophen tablets

Whether you’re a British expat living in the United States or just curious about American culture, you may be surprised to learn that paracetamol has a different name. The popular over-the-counter pain reliever in the UK is called acetaminophen in the US. 

Whether you’re experiencing toothache or have a headache you can’t shake, it’s important to know how and where to pick up over-the-counter medication.

Is Paracetamol (UK) the Same as Acetaminophen (US)?

Yes, paracetamol in the UK is the same as acetaminophen in the US. They have the same chemical structure (C8H9NO2) and dosage. Paracetamol is the generic name for the drug, while acetaminophen is the brand name. 

The doses can vary slightly between countries. Paracetamol in the UK comes in two strengths, 500mg, and 1g. Acetaminophen comes in three strengths, 325mg, 500mg, and 600mg.

Why Do Paracetamol and Acetaminophen Have Different Names?

The different names for paracetamol and acetaminophen are due to historical reasons. In the 1950s, paracetamol was first marketed in the UK by Sterling Winthrop. The company trademarked the name “paracetamol” and used it to market the drug in the UK and other countries. 

In the US, McNeil Laboratories was the first company to market acetaminophen. The company trademarked the name “Tylenol” and used it to market the drug in the US.

Paracetamol is referred to by that name in many countries outside of the UK, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and more.

Paracetamol (UK) vs. Acetaminophen (US) Products

There are a number of different brands of paracetamol and acetaminophen available in the UK and US. Some of the most common brands include:

  • UK: Calpol, Disprin, Panadol
  • US: Tylenol, Excedrin

The different brands of paracetamol and acetaminophen may contain different excipients, which are inactive ingredients that are used to improve the taste, texture, or shelf life of the medication. 

Prescriptions and Over-The-Counter (OTC) Products

Paracetamol and acetaminophen are available over the counter in both the UK and the US. They are also included in a number of prescription medications, such as combination pain relievers and cold and flu medications.

Some common over-the-counter products that contain paracetamol/acetaminophen include:

  • Headaches: Tylenol Headache Relief, Excedrin Extra Strength, Advil Pain Reliever + Headache Fever Formula
  • Fever: Tylenol Fever Reducer, Children’s Motrin, Infant’s Tylenol
  • Muscle aches: Tylenol Muscle Aches & Pain Reliever, Advil Pain Reliever + Muscle Relief, Aleve Muscle Pain Reliever
  • Cold and flu: DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu, NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu, Theraflu ExpressMax Severe Cold & Flu

Prescription Pain Opioid (Narcotic) Medicines

Paracetamol and acetaminophen are also included in some prescription pain opioid (narcotic) medicines, such as Percocet and Vicodin. These medications are used to treat moderate to severe pain.

It is important to note that prescription pain opioid medicines can be addictive and should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.

Is Acetaminophen Popular in the US?

Paracetamol and acetaminophen are two of the most popular over-the-counter pain relievers in the UK and the US, respectively. 

Paracetamol is estimated to be used by over 90% of the UK population at some point in their lives. Acetaminophen is estimated to be used by over 100 million Americans on a regular basis.

Common Uses

Paracetamol and acetaminophen are used to treat a variety of conditions, including:

  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Toothaches
  • Arthritis pain

Other Common Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medicines

Ibuprofen is another popular over-the-counter pain reliever. Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which means that it reduces inflammation in addition to relieving pain. 

Other common over-the-counter medicines include:

  • Aspirin
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Loratadine (Claritin)
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec)


Paracetamol and acetaminophen are generally safe and effective when taken as directed. However, there are some advisories to be aware of:

  • Do not take more than the recommended dose. Taking too much paracetamol or acetaminophen can lead to liver damage.
  • Do not drink alcohol while taking paracetamol or acetaminophen. Alcohol can increase the risk of liver damage.
  • Be careful when taking paracetamol or acetaminophen if you have other medical conditions, such as asthma, kidney disease, or liver disease.


The price of paracetamol and acetaminophen varies depending on the brand and form of the medication. 

In the UK, paracetamol is typically available for around £1 per packet of 16 tablets. In the US, acetaminophen is typically available for around $3 per packet of 16 tablets.

How Does Paracetamol (UK) or Acetaminophen (US) Work?

Paracetamol (UK) and acetaminophen (US) work differently from other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in a few key ways.

  • Mechanism of action: Paracetamol and acetaminophen work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that are responsible for pain and inflammation. Other NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, work by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme, which is responsible for producing prostaglandins.
  • Selectivity: Paracetamol and acetaminophen are relatively selective for COX-3, an enzyme that is thought to be involved in pain and fever. Other NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, are less selective and can also inhibit COX-1, an enzyme that is involved in protecting the stomach lining.
  • Anti-inflammatory effects: Paracetamol and acetaminophen have relatively weak anti-inflammatory effects. Other NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, have stronger anti-inflammatory effects.

As a result of these differences, paracetamol and acetaminophen are generally considered to be safer and more tolerable than other NSAIDs. They are also less likely to cause side effects such as stomach upset and bleeding.

Final Thoughts from UK vs. USA

Paracetamol and acetaminophen are the same drugs. They have the same chemical structure, dosage, and uses. The different names for paracetamol and acetaminophen are due to historical reasons. Paracetamol and acetaminophen are available in a variety of forms and are widely used in both the UK and the US.

Acetaminophen is a complex drug, and there is more to know about its safe and effective use than what is covered here. To learn more, please read the full acetaminophen information sheet or speak to your doctor or other healthcare professional.

 Paracetamol vs. Acetaminophen (UK vs. US) FAQ:

Is paracetamol the same as Tylenol?

Yes, paracetamol is the same drug as Tylenol. Paracetamol is the generic name for the drug, while Tylenol is the brand name.

Is paracetamol over the counter in the USA?

Yes, paracetamol is over-the-counter in the US. It is available under the brand name Tylenol.

Is paracetamol the same as Advil?

No, paracetamol is not the same as Advil. Paracetamol is an acetaminophen-based pain reliever, while Advil is an ibuprofen-based pain reliever.


Related Posts
Four-Day School Weeks in America: Everything You Need to Know

The trend of a four-day school week has only continued to rise. But why are schools moving to a 4-day Read more

UK vs. US Tax Rates: Income, Corporate and Expat Implications
someone filling out a us tax return

A must-read guide comparing UK and US taxes in plain English covering income tax, corporate tax, payroll, and more.