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)

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza


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

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In