Study of the Day: Taking Too Much Tylenol Repeatedly Can Be Fatal

More

Be careful when relieving Thanksgiving-induced headaches. Staggered overdoses of pain relievers with acetaminophen or paracetamol may be lethal.

main Paul Sakuma AP090630020486.jpg

PROBLEM: Treating people who overdosed on acetaminophen or paracetamol little by little is tricky. They may present low levels of the medicine in their blood when they arrive in the hospital even though they are already at high risk of liver failure and death.

METHODOLOGY: University of Edinburgh researchers led by Dr. Kenneth Simpson analyzed data from 663 patients who were admitted to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh between 1992 and 2008 with acetaminophen-induced liver injury.

RESULTS: More than 160 of the patients had taken too much acetaminophen in multiple occasions to relieve a variety of common pains, such as a headache and toothache. These staggered-overdose patients were more likely than single-overdose patients to die, require kidney dialysis, need help with breathing, and have liver and brain problems.

CONCLUSION: Repeatedly taking slightly too much acetaminophen can cause a dangerous overdose that is difficult to spot.

IMPLICATION: Simpson says patients who overdosed on acetaminophen progressively should be closely monitored and considered for the antidote, N-acetylcysteine, regardless of the concentration of drugs in their blood.

SOURCE: The full study, "Staggered Overdose Pattern and Delay to Hospital Presentation Are Associated With Adverse Outcomes Following Paracetamol-Induced Hepatotoxicity," is published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Image: Paul Sakuma/Associated Press.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Fascinating Short Film About the Multiverse

If life is a series of infinite possibilities, what does it mean to be alive?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In