Tylenol is safe when instructions on its label are strictly followed. Excessive consumption of Tylenol can affect the liver function seriously and may result in acute liver failure. Let us find out its side effects on liver.
Tylenol is the brand name of the widely used pain killer. Tylenol is quite popular in the United States. The generic name of the medicine is ‘acetaminophen’ which is present in a number of medications other than Tylenol, for example in prescription products like Vicodin and Percocet. Acetaminophen is called ‘paracetamol’ in the United Kingdom. It is good that more and more people are becoming aware of the life-threatening side effects of Tylenol.
Tylenol and Liver Damage
Tylenol is popular because of its analgesic (pain killing) and antipyretic (alleviating fever) properties. Actually, studies have shown that use of Tylenol in place of Aspirin to treat fever in babies has significantly lowered the chances of Reye’s syndrome, a characteristic fatal form of liver dysfunction. But if the instructions of the doctor regarding the dosage of Tylenol are not followed religiously, one might suffer from disastrous side effects like liver damage or even death. Various medicines in the form of drops, syrups, capsules, and pills contain acetaminophen. Higher the dose of acetaminophen, the greater is the likelihood of the liver damage.
Even Tylenol taken according to the recommended doses can raise the levels of liver enzymes in the blood, suggesting liver injury. But this mild to moderate liver injury is reversible. Once the intake of Tylenol is stopped, high enzyme levels return to the normal levels.
Early Signs of Liver Damage
Symptoms of Tylenol induced liver damage may very from patient to patient.
- Nausea and vomiting in the first 12 to 24 hours after taking Tylenol.
- About 48-72 hours after ingestion, if a liver blood test is performed, then extremely high levels of AST and ALT are seen.
- Severe acid buildup in the blood indicates kidney failure.
- Bleeding disorders or coma can prove to be fatal. Liver transplant is the only way to save the patient.
Doses of Acetaminophen
A regular strength pill contains 325 mg while extra-strength pill contains 500 mg acetaminophen.
- Recommended maximum dose of acetaminophen for a healthy adult: 4 gm (4000 mg or 8 extra strength pills) over 24 hours.
- Recommended maximum dose of acetaminophen for a person who consumes more than two alcoholic beverages per day: 2 grams of acetaminophen over 24 hours.
- For children, the safe dose is based on their weight and age.
- A single dose that can cause liver injury in a healthy adult: 7 to 10 grams (14 to 20 extra-strength tablets) for a 24 hour period.
- A single dose that can cause liver injury in children: 140 mg/kg (body weight of the child)
The safe dose may be lower than that mentioned above, in case of some people. For example, those who drink alcohol regularly are more likely to suffer from Tylenol induced liver damage. So for them, the normal dose can be way lower than the above figure. Doses as low as 3 to 4 grams (a single dose) or 4 to 6 grams over 24 hours have resulted in severe liver damage and some people have lost their lives as well.
It should be noted that the normal doses of Tylenol suggested by a doctor, can rarely lead to liver damage in people with healthy livers. Tylenol should be taken cautiously under a doctor’s supervision. Monitoring liver enzyme levels is essential if you are taking Tylenol over an extended period. You should read the labels carefully and follow the instructions of your doctor regarding the dosage, when on Tylenol.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.