Intended for healthcare professionals


BMJ should use “paracetamol” instead of “acetaminophen” in its index

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 14 September 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:689
  1. Nick Bradley, General practitioner
  1. Ide Lane Surgery, Alphington, Exeter EX2 8UP

    EDITOR,—One drug is notably absent from C F George's editorial on the naming of drugs.1 Paracetamol is widely used for pain and fever from cradle to grave. It is also the substance most commonly taken in deliberate self poisoning,2 causing 150 deaths a year in Britain.3 It is a medicine that people travelling abroad take with them or buy when they get to their destination, so everyone should know what to call it. Yet it still has two names: paracetamol and acetaminophen. This creates two problems, one for the general public and one for doctors and medical editors.

    Acetaminophen is the United States adopted name,4 and in the United States the substance is always and only called acetaminophen. Paracetamol is the recommended international non-proprietary name,4 the British approved name,4 and the name used for the substance throughout the world outside the United States. Two names for such a common over the counter drug must create confusion and risk for the public travelling to and from the United States. Ideally, the United States would abandon the name acetaminophen and adopt paracetamol. A pragmatic first step would be to label preparations as containing the substance “acetaminophen (paracetamol)” in the United States and “paracetamol (acetaminophen)” in Britain and other countries.

    Doctors in Britain who do not know that paracetamol has another name could come unstuck clinically and in their reading. Here the BMJ has a role. Since 1992 (volume 305) the index for the BMJ has said “see acetaminophen” beside the entry for paracetamol. It then indexes all entries about paracetamol under the American name, even though the articles use the name paracetamol. I wonder why the BMJ does this, because it is not the usual or proper practice in Britain. The name paracetamol appears, without reference to acetaminophen, in the index and text of the March 1996 edition of the British National Formulary, the 1995 indexes of the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin and the Lancet, and the 1995 edition of A Textbook of Pharmacology.5 It makes no sense for the BMJ alone to use acetaminophen as the reference name for this drug.


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