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Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Poisoning

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Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Poisoning Overview

Acetaminophen is one of the most common medications found in households. It is used for the treatment of pain and to lower fever.

Over many years, it has been used countless times by many people, and it has proven to be a safe and effective medication. However, if taken in excess amounts (overdose, whether on purpose or by accident), acetaminophen can cause life-threatening illness. Unless otherwise directed by your care provider, the usual maximum recommended dose is 3 grams in 24 hours.

Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol. It is also found in many other over-the-counter medications and in prescription drugs. Acetaminophen is in Actifed, Alka-Seltzer Plus, Benadryl, Co-Gesic, Contac, Excedrin, Fioricet, Lortab, Midrin, Norco, Percocet, Robitussin, Sedapap, Sinutab, Sudafed, TheraFlu, Unisom PM Pain, Vick's Nyquil and DayQuil, Vicodin, Wygesic, and Zydone.

Acetaminophen in overdose can seriously damage the liver. If the damage is severe, a liver transplant may be necessary in order to save someone’s life.

The antidote to acetaminophen overdose is N-acetylcysteine (NAC). It is most effective when given within eight hours of ingesting acetaminophen. Indeed, NAC can prevent liver failure if given early enough. For this reason, it is absolutely necessary that acetaminophen poisoning be recognized, diagnosed, and treated as early as possible.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Poisoning Causes

Illness from acetaminophen overdose is caused primarily by liver damage.

Acetaminophen is primarily metabolized by the liver. Too much acetaminophen can overwhelm the way the liver normally functions.

If the liver is already damaged because of infection, alcohol abuse, or other illness, a person may be more susceptible to damage from acetaminophen overdose. For this reason, people with liver illnesses or people who chronically consume large amounts of alcohol should be particularly careful when taking acetaminophen and should consult their doctor prior to taking acetaminophen compounds. The FDA currently recommends that anyone taking medications that contain acetaminophen should not drink alcoholic beverages.

Long-term use of acetaminophen in recommended doses has not been shown to be harmful to the liver.

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