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What is acetaminophen poisoning?


Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in hundreds of other medications, is one of the most commonly use over the counter (OTC) medications today. When used in the short-term in recommended doses, it has been proven to be a safe and effective pain reliever and fever reducer. However, acetaminophen can cause severe damage to the liver and be life-threatening if used in excessive doses or for a long time. Since acetaminophen is found in many over-the-counter (OTC) medications, the FDA has asked manufacturers to limit the quantity of acetaminophen in combination medications to 325 milligrams per dose. The current recommendation is to not exceed a total of 4000 milligrams (4 grams) of acetaminophen from all medications, such as cold and cough medications, per 24 hours.

Increased poisoning risk factors

There are several factors that can increase the risk of acetaminophen poisoning. Because many over-the-counter remedies contain acetaminophen, people who regularly take many non-prescription medications are at risk, since you may unknowingly be taking more than one product with acetaminophen at the same time. If the liver is already damaged, a person may be more susceptible to acetaminophen poisoning. This can cause an accidental overdose. It has also been found that people who habitually use alcohol or have liver disease are more susceptible to the kind of liver damage that acetaminophen poisoning causes.

Poisoning symptoms

An overdose of acetaminophen might not produce symptoms for the initial 24 hours. Common symptoms after this period can include: nausea, vomiting, sweating, paleness, weakness, and abdominal pain. In severe overdoses, jaundice, bleeding, and confusion may accompany a decrease in liver function after three or four days. If recovery has not begun after five days, liver failure, coma, and even death can occur due to acetaminophen poisoning.

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Answers to questions regarding information about medications or health conditions are not for diagnostic or treatment purposes and are not conclusive as to the presence or absence of any health condition. Consult your physician for diagnosis and treatment of your medical condition. The information provided is not a substitute for medical advice. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of the scientific literature may vary. Walgreens' terms of use and general warranty disclaimer apply to all services provided. If you are in need of immediate medical attention, contact your physician, poison control center or emergency medical professional. If you need to speak with a pharmacist for non-emergency matters, contact your local Walgreens pharmacist or call a pharmacist toll-free at 1 (877) 250-5823.

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