Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Poisoning
When to Seek Medical Care
You must call a doctor, a poison control center, or emergency medical services for any suspected acetaminophen overdose.
Overall it is important that anyone suspected to have taken an overdose of acetaminophen get treatment early, before symptoms occur. Starting treatment early can greatly improve the outcome.
Seek emergency medical care at a hospital's emergency department in the following situations:
If the person suspected to have taken an overdose of acetaminophen is unconscious, semiconscious, or not breathing, call 911 immediately.
Go to the hospital's emergency department if the poison control center tells you to go.
Seek emergency care if you are unsure of the types and amounts of medication taken.
If a child took acetaminophen without adult supervision and may have taken an overdose, seek immediate medical attention.
Exams and Tests
Your doctor will diagnose acetaminophen overdose with the following methods:
- History. The doctor will attempt to determine the time and amount of acetaminophen taken. Having access to all medication bottles that the person may have taken will help the doctor to determine the maximum amount taken.
- Physical. The doctor will look for signs and symptoms of acetaminophen poisoning. These may include jaundice (yellow skin), abdominal pain, vomiting, and other signs and symptoms.
- Laboratory tests. A blood level of acetaminophen will aid in determining if a toxic dose was taken. The doctor may order more than one blood level of acetaminophen and test for other drugs taken. In addition, the doctor may order other blood and urine tests as needed.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Poisoning Treatment
Self-Care at Home
If you or a member of your household has taken or may have taken an overdose of acetaminophen, take quick action.
- If the person is unconscious or not breathing, call 911 immediately for emergency medical services.
- If the person is awake and breathing without symptoms, call your local poison control center or the American Association of Poison Control Centers at (800) 222-1222.
The following information is helpful for both medical personnel and a poison control center:
- All medication that the person has taken, both prescribed and nonprescribed (have the bottles close)
- All medications that are available in the house, prescribed and nonprescribed
- The time that the person took the medication
Treatment in the emergency department depends on the condition of the person and any other medications taken.
If someone is suspected of having taken an overdose but has no symptoms, the doctor will begin the following treatment:
- Emptying of the stomach. In the very few cases in which a person comes to the hospital minutes after taking the overdose, the doctor may attempt to empty the stomach by running a tube through the mouth into the stomach.
- Activated charcoal.Activated charcoal should be given by mouth within 4 hours of the overdose to bind any drug remaining in the gastrointestinal tract.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC). NAC is the antidote for toxic acetaminophen overdose. It is generally given by mouth. The medication has a foul odor but may be mixed with juice or other flavorings to make it taste better. If the person cannot take NAC by mouth, a tube may be placed through the mouth and into the stomach to help administer it. If giving NAC by this method is not possible, the doctor may give it by IV. NAC should be given within 8 hours of ingestion, and is generally given for 20 hours to 72 hours.