Acetaminophen Overdose

What is Acetaminophen Overdose?

An acetaminophen overdose occurs when an individual takes more of the medication than the recommended dose, resulting in a potentially fatal level of toxicity. Acetaminophen is a common ingredient found in many over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers, and is also found in many prescription-strength pain medications and cold and flu medications. Acetaminophen overdose is one of the most common forms of overdose with pain medications.

Signs and Symptoms of Acetaminophen Overdose

When an individual takes more acetaminophen than the recommended dose, they may experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine
  • Light-colored stools
  • Liver failure

If left untreated, liver damage can occur and can even lead to death.

Treatment for Acetaminophen Overdose

If an acute acetaminophen overdose is suspected, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Early treatment is essential to prevent liver damage. Treatment options depend on how soon treatment was sought and at what stage the poisoning is in. Treatment may include administering activated charcoal to stop absorption of acetaminophen, administering N-acetyl cysteine (an antidote for acetaminophen poisoning), and administering intravenous fluids to flush out the system.

While medical treatment may be successful in reducing symptoms and avoiding liver failure, it is important to note that acetaminophen overdose can have long-term effects on the body, such as kidney or liver damage.

Prevention of Acetaminophen Overdose

To help prevent an acetaminophen overdose, it is important to strictly follow the directions on the medication label. Pay special attention to the recommended dose and the maximum daily dose. People who have previously overdosed on acetaminophen should not take any over-the-counter and prescription medications that contain acetaminophen. In addition, people who are taking more than one medication containing acetaminophen should talk to their doctor or pharmacist to ensure that it is safe.