Acetaminophen overdose symptoms can range from mild to chronic. Acetaminophen is another name for paracetamol, that, as we all know, is an over-the-counter pain reliever and is also used to treat fever. Scroll down to know the potential harm caused by the excessive consumption of this drug.
Acetaminophen is a drug that is widely perceived to be safe for consumption; however, only in limited quantities! Because of the fact that this drug is widely used, and one really doesn’t need a prescription to buy it, people have actually neglected, or are unaware of the hazardous effects that its overdose can cause. The acceptable dosage of acetaminophen is 1,000 mg per single dose, and up to 4,000 mg per day for adults.
For those who drink alcohol, the dosage is up to 2,000 mg per day. This medicine is also safe for children, the appropriate dosage depending upon the age / weight of the child. In the United States of America, acetaminophen is commonly known as Tylenol, which is nothing but a brand name. There are various medicines which contain this drug in different quantities. Therefore, a combination of these drugs, even if taken in recommended doses, can cause an overdose of acetaminophen in particular, causing symptoms that may prove to be fatal.
Symptoms of Acetaminophen Overdose
Before I enlist the symptoms of Tylenol poisoning, it is important for you to know that the effects of overdose may vary from one person to another, depending upon their overall fitness and health conditions. For example, people suffering from any form of liver and kidney impairment, may experience severe consequences after consuming excessive amounts of acetaminophen. This is the reason why the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recommend alcohol consumers (those who take more than three alcoholic beverages in a day) to consume acetaminophen, or any other over-the-counter pain relievers for that matter! Some of the commonly observed signs of acetaminophen poisoning are as follows.
- Loss of appetite
The aforementioned symptoms are observed 24 hours after the overdose; mostly, no symptoms are observed in the first 24 hours. This drug reacts with the body in phases. If the overdose is not too much, then these are the only symptoms that one may suffer from. However, if your symptoms aggravate and move on to the next phase, it is probably an indication of liver damage.
The second phase occurs in the next 48-72 hours. Acetaminophen is metabolized by the liver, and in the process, a metabolite known as NAPQI is produced, which proves to be toxic to the liver. When there is too much of this substance produced, it accumulates in the liver resulting in its damage. The following symptoms are likely to occur.
- Reduced urination
- Acute kidney failure
- Pain in the upper right abdomen
Immediate medical attention should be given to the patient in this stage; in fact, as soon as one feels that an overdose has been consumed, (intentionally or by accident) no delay should be done to flush out the toxic element. Or else, it may lead to the third phase, which can prove to be fatal!
The third phase occurs post 72 hours, and may continue till the 5th day from the overdose. This phase brings forth some of the most serious symptoms indicating high toxicity levels in the body. These include:
- Necrosis or premature death of living tissue or cells
- Coagulation complications
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Swelling in the brain
- Breathing difficulty
- Multiple organ failure
The symptoms listed above are more than enough for us to understand as to why this stage can prove to be fatal for many. Most of the time, a liver transplant is needed for the patient to survive this life-threatening situation; which is why, it is advisable for one to not wait for the symptoms to aggravate. The moment you realize that there is an overdose, rush to the hospital immediately, irrespective of the presence or absence of any symptoms!
Acetaminophen Overdose Treatment
The first course of treatment is relieving the gastrointestinal system off the acetaminophen. If the overdose is potentially life-threatening, then stomach pumping is done, which takes around an hour; however, the stomach pumping is effective if only done before the absorption of the drug takes place, which usually takes around 2 hours. An antidote that comes to rescue in this case is acetylcysteine. It is known to decrease the toxicity of acetaminophen by refiling the body’s quota of antioxidant glutathione. It works effectively within 8 hours of the patient having undergone the overdose.
Activated charcoal is another means through which the toxicity of this drug can be curbed. It tends to absorb the amount of acetaminophen present in the gastrointestinal system; however, some experts suggest that it should not be used with acetylcysteine, as the activated charcoal also tends to absorb the antidote, as well. The last and final resort to acetaminophen poisoning is liver transplant. This is in extreme cases.
Prevention is always better than cure. Therefore, it is always advisable to take any drug within the recommended dosage. Though acetaminophen is a safe drug, it is also the most common cause of poisoning and acute liver failure. So, make sure that you do not consume this drug (or any other over-the-counter medication) if you have – liver and / or kidney problems, if you are empty stomach, and if you drink more than 3 alcoholic beverages in a day. It is always advisable to consult a medical expert before consuming any medication to avoid unnecessary complications.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be considered as a replacement for expert medical advise.