Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

Overview Risk Factors Symptoms

Acetaminophen Overdose Overview

How serious is an acetaminophen overdose?
Acetaminophen is present in many prescription and nonprescription drugs. It is very safe drug when taken in normal doses. However, a large overdose of acetaminophen can be very dangerous. The toxic dose in children is about 68 milligrams per pound of body weight (150mg per kg of body weight). A 25 lb child who ingests 3-4 extra-strength (500 mg) tablets or 4-5 regular strength (350 mg) may have a serious overdose. The usual toxic adult dose is 7.5 grams (taken at one time) or greater. Acetaminophen toxicity varies between people due to differences in liver and kidney function.

What are the symptoms of an acetaminophen overdose?
Minor overdoses of this drug seldom cause symptoms. Large ingestions can cause a loss of appetite and nausea or vomiting. These symptoms usually begin within hours or days of taking the drug. Children with a large overdose tend to have more symptoms than adults. Be aware that early symptoms are not reliable in predicting a serious overdose. Acetaminophen toxicity may result in hepatitis and liver failure over a period of days. Liver failure will cause symptoms of jaundice, abdominal pain, dark urine and pale stools.

What should you do in the event of an acetaminophen overdose?
Anyone who takes an overdose in an attempt to cause self-harm should have an emergent medical evaluation regardless of the amount taken. A person who accidentally takes three or more extra doses (two or more extra doses if you have liver disease) of acetaminophen should seek immediate medical evaluation without delay. Do not take ipecac or try to induce vomiting. Immediate medical care is also needed if you are unsure whether the amount taken might be toxic. Contact the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for more information.

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