Acetaminophen is a common over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication. Tylenol is one brand of this medication. Acetaminophen poisoning is an overdose of this medication. It can cause damage to the liver.
The overdose may happen as an accident or an intentional overdose. This can be a serious condition that will need medical care.
Acetaminophen poisoning may occur as a result of 1 large dose or several small overdoses over a long period of time. An overdose of acetaminophen can result from:
Certain chronic diseases can make a person more vulnerable to this type of overdose. For example, people with liver damage can have acetaminophen poisoning at lower doses. Poisoning can also happen if acetaminophen is taken along with other substances that harm the liver, such as alcohol.
Factors that may increase the chance of acetaminophen poisoning include:
At first, a person with acetaminophen poisoning may have no symptoms.
When symptoms develop, they can include:
Jaundiced Skin from Damaged Liver
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You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests may be done to:
Treatment options include:
People with low levels of acetaminophen in the blood may only need to be monitored. If symptoms develop or worsen, then other treatments may be started.
Activated charcoal is taken by mouth. The charcoal can help block the absorption of acetaminophen. It will not affect the level of acetaminophen that has already been absorbed into the bloodstream.
N-acetylcysteine is an antidote to acetaminophen poisoning. It can prevent damage to the liver. It may be given by mouth or IV. The earlier this antidote is delivered, the better the outcome will be.
To help reduce your chance of acetaminophen poisoning:
American Association of Poison Control Centers
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Canadian Institute for Health Information
Safe Kid—Children's Health & Safety Association
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Accessed September 3, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2017 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 9/3/2015
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