More Tylenol Overdoses, Liver Failure
Researchers Find Rise in Liver Failures Due to Too Much Tylenol
Dec. 1, 2005 -- Taken properly, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is a safe
painkiller. But taking too much Tylenol can lead to liver failure.
That overdose risk is well-known and noted on Tylenol's label. Now, a new
study shows a rise in cases of acute (sudden) liver failure reportedly linked
to Tylenol overdoses.
The researchers included Anne Larson, MD, an assistant professor of medicine
at the University of Washington.
Their report, published in Hepatology, states that the maximum
recommended daily dose of acetaminophen is 4 grams.
Check the labels of any over-the-counter drugs you're taking to see how much
acetaminophen each pill contains and read up on the products' warnings. If you
suspect an overdose, get medical help or contact a poison-control center
immediately. The sooner treatment can be initiated in an acetaminophen
overdose, the better the chances for recovery and survival.
Larsen and colleagues studied six years of data from 22 university medical
centers. During that time, 662 patients met the reseachers' criteria for acute
The researchers determined that a little less than half of those cases (42%,
or 275 people) were linked to acetaminophen overdoses.
Over the years, acetaminophen accounted for increasing percentages of the
"The annual percentage of acetaminophen-related acute liver failure rose
during the study from 28% in 1998 to 51% in 2003," write the
On average, patients had taken 24 grams of acetaminophen. That's six times
the maximum daily dose of 4 grams, or the equivalent of 48 extra-strength
Larsen's team tried to determine whether patients overdosed on purpose and
what (if any) other drugs they had also taken.
Figuring that out wasn't always easy, given the patients' condition. The
researchers concluded that 44% of the patients had deliberately overdosed in
suicide attempts and 48% had overdosed unintentionally. Patients' intentions
weren't clear in 8% of the cases, the study shows.
Here's how the patients fared:
- 65% survived (175 people)
- 27% died without getting a liver transplant (74 people)
- 8% got liver transplants (23 people)
Many patients (65%) who reported exceeding acetaminophen's daily limit also
abused alcohol, which can damage the liver, the researchers note. They add that
some patients were also depressed.