Acetaminophen Poisoning

Acetaminophen Poisoning

What is Acetaminophen Poisoning?

Acetaminophen is a drug used primarily to treat pain and reduce fever. Acetaminophen poisoning occurs when a toxic amount of acetaminophen is ingested at one time or over several days. Most often, it is unintentional. An overdose may occur when someone accidentally or intentionally takes more than the normal or recommended amount of this medication. This can happen in adults and children.

Acetaminophen poisoning is a medical emergency that requires prompt treatment. Acetaminophen is one of the most common drug-related causes of liver damage in the United States. The amount that can cause liver damage varies from person to person. Factors that affect this include how much you weigh, other medical problems you have, and how much and how often you drink alcohol. Children are especially sensitive to acetaminophen toxicity.

The human body has a limited capacity to metabolise (break down) acetaminophen. At high levels, this medication can cause liver damage that can be potentially fatal. In addition, an overdose of acetaminophen can cause kidney failure and damage to the central nervous system (CNS). The kidneys and intestines also play an important role in removing acetaminophen from the body. In some cases, kidney failure or intestinal bleeding may prevent this from occurring efficiently.

The most common cause of acetaminophen poisoning is taking too many cold and flu medications that contain acetaminophen at the same time. This can result in accidental overdose.

Other causes of acetaminophen poisoning are:

  • Intentional overdose, which may be due to a “suicide attempt” or an “accident”
  • Taking too much acetaminophen if you have liver disease
  • Drinking alcohol while taking acetaminophen increases your risk for liver damage


The first symptoms of acetaminophen poisoning may be vague, including nausea, vomiting, sweating, and general malaise. Other early symptoms may include loss of appetite and abdominal pain in the upper right abdomen. Later symptoms may include yellowing of the skin (jaundice), swelling of the legs, and mental confusion.

When to Contact a Medical Profession

Call Victorian Poisons Information Centre at 13 11 26. for advice if you think someone might have taken too much acetaminophen or any other medication or swallowed any poisonous substance. The staff will tell you what to do next. You may also need to go to the emergency room for follow-up care by a health care professional.

You must be very careful not to take more than the recommended dose because it can cause liver damage. When taken as directed, acetaminophen is safe and effective at treating pain and fever.

Always read the label carefully before taking any medication; and

If you have liver or kidney problems, be sure to ask your doctor whether you can safely take acetaminophen.

Please note that regular First Aid and CPR Training is the best way to make sure that you’re prepare in the case of an emergency. Book a course with us!

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