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What to know about taking Tylenol on an empty stomach

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Tylenol without foodSide effectsTips to avoid stomach painOther medicationsSummary
Tylenol is a painkiller you can take with or without food. But if you take it on an empty stomach, some people experience side effects like nausea.
Medically reviewed by Monica Kean, PharmD
Updated on

Tylenol is a branded pain medication known as an analgesic. It’s the branded form of the drug acetaminophen. It’s available over the counter (OTC) and is widely used to treat aches and pains, such as headaches.

Everyone may respond differently to Tylenol when it’s taken with or without food. Taking Tylenol on an empty stomach may be safe for some people but intolerable for others. Therefore, it’s important to identify the possible effects of taking Tylenol without food and the benefits of taking some medications with food.

Tylenol on an empty stomach 

An adult sitting down eating a meal out of a tub, contemplating taking Tylenol on an empty stomach.
1311059393fotostorm/Getty Images

Tylenol, the branded form of acetaminophen, can be taken on an empty stomach, but the effects and dosage may vary for each person.

Other painkillers, particularly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil), can cause stomach irritation, so experts recommend taking these with food to prevent this.

There is no such recommendation for Tylenol. It is less likely to cause stomach pain, possibly because it is absorbed in your intestine rather than in your stomach itself.

However, if you do experience some stomach pain or nausea when you take Tylenol, you can try taking it with food instead to see if this eases it for you.

Note that having food in your stomach could reduce the absorption of Tylenol in some cases. Findings from an older 2015 review study suggested that food intake with analgesics such as Tylenol could potentially slow their absorption rate, which could make them less effective overall.

While you don’t need to worry about taking Tylenol with food, you should always take it with water. This not only makes the pill easier to swallow but also avoids damaging your esophagus.

Generally, taking Tylenol with enough water and without food has not been shown to be unsafe. However, consult your doctor for medical guidance to reduce the chance of possible side effects like stomach irritation. 

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Side effects

Taking Tylenol on an empty stomach is typically safe in most cases. However, some people may experience side effects such as nausea and stomach pain (dyspepsia) when they take it without food.

Other possible side effects of taking Tylenol include:

  • skin rash
  • hypersensitivity reactions
  • liver and kidney damage
  • metabolic and electrolyte changes

Consult a doctor if you suspect or experience any of these side effects when taking Tylenol.

Tips to avoid an upset stomach with medications

Generally, different medications may cause stomach upset as a side effect or when taken without food.

When you take medications on an empty stomach, the medication comes in direct contact with your stomach lining. This could trigger inflammatory changes in the stomach of some individuals and lead to a clinical condition called gastritis.

People who have gastritis typically experience varying degrees of pain or discomfort, especially after taking NSAID medications like Advil.  Therefore, taking medications with food is one effective way of reducing the chance of stomach upset.

Here are other ways to avoid stomach upset when taking medications: 

  • Reduce or avoid eating fatty foods with medications: A 2016 review study demonstrated a correlation between the intake of fatty foods and stomach symptoms such as pain and bloating. The researchers found that lower fat intake was associated with a decreased risk of stomach discomfort.
  • Use enteric-coated medications: Enteric-coated medications have a special outer layer that protects the tablet from the high acidity in the stomach. Also, these coatings delay the medication’s release in the gastrointestinal tract and reduce the chance of stomach upset or discomfort.
  • Stay hydrated: Adequate hydration and avoiding alcoholic drinks while taking medications could also prevent stomach upset.
  • Time of intake: The time you take your medication can also affect the chances of developing stomach upset. Some medications are best taken in the morning or night to prevent stomach discomfort. Consider the time of intake if you have any stomach concerns with your medications and discuss with a doctor the best time to take them. 

Other medications to take with food

Generally, some medications require food intake for a variety of reasons.

Some common reasons you need food before taking some medications are:

  • To increase absorption and effectiveness: Some medications are absorbed faster with food. For instance, the intake of fatty foods with some fat-soluble antibiotics can increase their absorption and increase the blood concentration of the medication. Medications with a higher blood concentration typically work better.
  • Reduce stomach upset: Having food in your stomach prevents the medication from directly contacting the stomach wall. This lowers the chance of medication-related inflammatory changes in the stomach.
  • Prevention of side effects: The way your medication works could also cause side effects. For instance, oral glucose-lowering medications or insulin lead to low blood glucose, which may be life threatening. So, doctors recommend taking these medications with food.

The following are some examples of medications that typically require food intake:


Taking Tylenol on an empty stomach is typically fine for most people, although some might notice slight stomach upset. To decrease the chances of stomach upset when taking medications, reduce oily or high fat foods, adjust the time you take the medication, and consider enteric-coated medications.

In some cases, food in your stomach can potentially enhance the absorption of the medication and protect you against some side effects. If you notice any concerns with your medications, contact a doctor.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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