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Acetaminophen Overdose and Liver Damage

Acetaminophen is one of the most common pharmaceutical agents involved in overdose, as reported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. In the US, acetaminophen toxicity has replaced viral hepatitis as the most common cause of acute hepatic failure, and it is the second most common cause of liver failure requiring transplantation.

Acetaminophen side effects, namely liver problems, have been increasing, which prompted a Food and Drug Administration joint advisory committee in June, 2009 to discuss safety issues regarding the pain-reliever. Acetaminophen overdose is of concern in both over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as Tylenol—the most popular painkiller in the US--and prescription products such as Darvocet.

Acetaminophen is the generic name of a drug found in many OTC and prescription medications such as Nyquil, Robitussin, Benadryl, Alka-Seltzer, Vicodin, Percocet, Darvocet, and more. It is the active ingredient in these medicines used to help relieve pain and reduce fever and generally considered safe if directions for use are followed on the labeling. However, taking more than the recommended amount of acetaminophen can cause liver damage--from abnormalities in liver function blood tests to acute liver failure and even death. According to the National Institutes of Health, Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of liver failure in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

On June 29 and 30, 2009 the FDA advisory panel recommended that the maximum dose of OTC acetaminophen be lowered: The maximum single dose of acetaminophen is to be reduced from 1,000 milligrams to 650 milligrams. The panel also recommended that the maximum recommended daily dose be decreased from 4 grams--- equal to eight pills of a drug such as Extra Strength Tylenol-- although a lower limit has not yet been specified. As well, the 1,000-milligram dose of acetaminophen will only be available by prescription.

The advisers voted against other safety restrictions for other OTC drugs such as NyQuil or Theraflu, which contain acetaminophen and other ingredients that treat cough and runny nose.

Acetaminophen Overdose

The FDA reports that Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of calls to the Poison Control Centers across the US and it is estimated that acetaminophen poisoning calls exceed 100,000 per year. A 2007 CDC population-based report estimates that, nationally, there are 1600 cases of acute liver failure (ALF) each year and an estimated 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and 458 deaths related to acetaminophen-associated overdoses per year during the 1990-1998 period.

The potential for individuals to mix cold medications with pure acetaminophen drugs such as Tylenol, leave them vulnerable to dangerously high levels of acetaminophen and potential acetaminophen overdose.

Many consumers take more than the recommended dose of acetaminophen-based OTC pain relievers thinking that "more is better"-- they could get more pain relief without realizing serious health risks. And consumers may not know that acetaminophen is present in many products, such as remedies for colds, headaches and fevers, making them susceptible to exceed the recommended acetaminophen dose.

Prescription Drugs Containing Acetaminophen to get Black Box Warning

The FDA advisory panel recommended the addition of a "black box" warning, discussing the risk of fatal overdose to prescription drugs containing acetaminophen, such as Darvocet . In addition, the panel recommended removing from the market prescription opiate painkillers — such as Percocet and Vicodin — that also contain acetaminophen.

Acetaminophen liver failure

Consumers with decreased liver function, kidney disease, hepatitis, malnutrition, AIDS, chronic ethanol abuse, or anorexia nervosa may be at increased risk for liver failure and death when using Acetaminophen. For diabetics, acetaminophen may also affect the results of blood glucose (sugar) tests. Some acetaminophen drugs may contain aspartame, sulfites or caffeine.

The most significant risk involving acetaminophen is acute liver toxicity. Data acquired from the U.S. Acute Liver Failure Study Group registry indicates that nearly 50 percent of all acute liver failure in the US is linked to acetaminophen poisoning, and of all acute liver cases, about half of them are accidental.

Early symptoms of liver damage—loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting—are often mistaken for the 'flu'. Acetaminophen liver damage can develop into liver failure or death over several days. Acetaminophen based drugs such as Tylenol can potentially be fatal for those who consume alcohol, take the drug in high doses, or simply use it regularly.

Acetaminophen Liver Damage Legal Help

If you or a loved one has suffered an overdose or acute liver failure from taking Acetaminophen, please click the link below to send your complaint to a lawyer to evaluate your claim at no cost or obligation.
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FDA Issues Warning of Liver Injury with Acetaminophen
FDA Issues Warning of Liver Injury with Acetaminophen
January 15, 2014
The FDA has issued a statement recommending health care professionals discontinue prescribing and dispensing prescription combination drug products that contain more than 325 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen per tablet, capsule or other dosage unit. READ MORE

Acetaminophen Aches
Acetaminophen Aches
August 8, 2009
It might just be one of the best-known drugs on the market, but acetaminophen is now coming under fire after it was linked to an increased risk of liver failure. READ MORE


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