Chicago Health | Homepage
Accidental acetaminophen overdose is common

Accidental acetaminophen overdose is common

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts

By Howard LeWine, M.D.

Q: A friend was recently hospitalized with liver damage. The doctors told her it was caused by the acetaminophen in the over-the-counter medicines she was taking for back pain. I always thought of Tylenol as a safe drug. Now I am scared to use it. Your thoughts, please.

A: In general, acetaminophen is a safe drug, as long as you don’t take too much.

Acetaminophen helps ease pain and reduces fever. It doesn’t dampen inflammation like the NSAIDs ibuprofen or naproxen can. But acetaminophen has the benefits of being easier on the stomach and no risk of increased heart problems.

I suspect that your friend unknowingly took more than the recommended daily dose of acetaminophen. More than 600 products contain acetaminophen, and inadvertently combining them can nudge you into the red zone.

People don’t realize that these doses all add up, and before you know it you’ve exceeded the recommended dose of acetaminophen.

The body breaks down most of the acetaminophen in a normal dose and eliminates it in the urine. But some of the drug is converted into a byproduct that is toxic to the liver. If you take too much — all at once or over a period of days — more toxin can build up than the body can handle.

For the average healthy adult, the generally recommended maximum daily dose is no more than 4,000 milligrams (mg) from all sources. But in some people, doses close to the 4,000 mg daily limit for adults could still be toxic to the liver. It’s safest to take only what you need, and to not exceed 3,000 mg a day whenever possible, especially if you have a small body.

Here are some general precautions for avoiding an accidental overdose of acetaminophen:

–Cold and flu remedies count. When you reach for an over-the-counter cough, cold or flu product, take a look at the label. Does it contain acetaminophen?

–Add up the amount in all your pills. Carefully examine the individual ingredients in all your medications, both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Add up the total amount of acetaminophen.

–Easy on the alcohol. Drinking alcohol causes the liver to convert more of the acetaminophen you take into toxic byproducts.

–Know if your medications interact. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of your prescription medications could interact badly with acetaminophen.

(Howard LeWine, M.D., is an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. For additional consumer health information, please visit www.health.harvard.edu.)

(c) 2016 PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Similar Articles

Make your diet more nutrient-dense

Make your diet more nutrient-dense

Environmental Nutrition By Matthew Kadey, M.S., R.D., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter There is only so much food you

Gluten related symptoms: Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

Gluten related symptoms: Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts By Howard LeWine, M.D. Q: I seem to be very

Start treatment now to prevent spring allergy symptoms

Start treatment now to prevent spring allergy symptoms

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts By Howard LeWine, M.D. Q: I have spring allergies. Every

Does your doctor’s gender matter?

Does your doctor’s gender matter?

By Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. Harvard Health Blog I've read medical research studies that surprised me. I've

10 tips to fight osteoporosis

10 tips to fight osteoporosis

Environmental Nutrition By Carrie Dennett, M.P.H., R.D.N., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter Because 70 percent of our bone destiny

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

May 2017
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
April 30, 2017 May 1, 2017 May 2, 2017 May 3, 2017 May 4, 2017 May 5, 2017 May 6, 2017
May 7, 2017 May 8, 2017 May 9, 2017 May 10, 2017 May 11, 2017 May 12, 2017 May 13, 2017
May 14, 2017 May 15, 2017 May 16, 2017 May 17, 2017 May 18, 2017 May 19, 2017 May 20, 2017
May 21, 2017 May 22, 2017 May 23, 2017 May 24, 2017 May 25, 2017 May 26, 2017 May 27, 2017
May 28, 2017 May 29, 2017 May 30, 2017 May 31, 2017 June 1, 2017 June 2, 2017 June 3, 2017

Categories

Recent Comments

Fund a Cure Night | The Griffith Family Foundation

Fund a Cure Night | The Griffith Family Foundation

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE
Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE

Archives