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Acetaminophen Overdose


Acetaminophen overdose

means taking more than it is safe to take. It may also be called acetaminophen poisoning. Acetaminophen is called paracetamol in countries outside the United States. When used correctly, acetaminophen is a safe drug that decreases pain and fever. Many medicines contain acetaminophen, including some that you can buy without a prescription.

Common symptoms:

You might not have any signs or symptoms at first. Early signs and symptoms may make you feel like you have the flu. Common signs and symptoms happen during each stage of an acetaminophen overdose. If the overdose is treated right away, you might have fewer or easier symptoms in the later stages.

  • First 24 hours:
    • Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and loss of appetite
    • Paleness
    • Tiredness
    • Sweating
  • 24 to 72 hours after the overdose, you may also have any of the following:
    • Pain in your upper right side
    • Dark urine
    • Urinating less often than usual
    • Skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow
  • 72 to 96 hours after the overdose, you may also have any of the following:
    • Blood in your urine
    • Fever, lightheadedness, or fainting
    • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
    • Extreme weakness or tiredness
    • Feeling very hungry, or shaking
    • Blurred vision, a fast heartbeat, or headache that will not go away
    • Trouble staying awake
    • Confusion
    • Coma

Seek care immediately if:

  • You or another person took too much acetaminophen.
  • You feel confused or more tired than usual, or you are sweating more than usual.
  • You have severe nausea and are vomiting.
  • You cannot have a bowel movement or urinate.
  • Your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have taken too much acetaminophen by mistake, even if you do not have any signs or symptoms.
  • You have pain in the upper right side of your abdomen.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment for an acetaminophen overdose:

Acetaminophen overdose is a serious problem. Treatment should be started as soon as possible. Treatment depends on how much time has passed since the overdose and if the overdose happened all at one time. You may be given activated charcoal medicine to soak up the acetaminophen that is still in your stomach. Activated charcoal will make you vomit. Gastric lavage may be needed to clean out your stomach to get rid of the acetaminophen. Gastric lavage is also called having your stomach pumped. You may be given antidote medicine to stop the effect of the overdose. You may also be given medicine to slow down the effects of acetaminophen.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

If you think you took too much acetaminophen:

Immediately call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 .

Prevent an acetaminophen overdose:

  • Read labels carefully. Read the labels of all the medicines you take. If your medicine contains acetaminophen, it will be listed in the active ingredients section. Acetaminophen may be listed on the label as APAP, Acetaminoph, Acetaminop, Acetamin, or Acetam. Check carefully to see if the acetaminophen is a regular or extended-release form.
  • Do not take more than 1 type of acetaminophen at a time. Many combination medicines contain acetaminophen. Make sure the total dose of acetaminophen you take is not more than 4,000 milligrams (4 grams) in 1 day. Ask your healthcare provider if you are not sure how much you are taking. Check other medicines to see if they contain acetaminophen. Do not take these medicines together with acetaminophen. The combined amount of acetaminophen may be too much.
  • Take the correct dose. Make sure you take the right amount and wait the right number of hours between doses. Never take more than the label says to take. Do not take acetaminophen for more days than directed. If the medicine came with a device such as a spoon or dropper, use it to measure your medicine.
  • Do not take acetaminophen for too many days in a row. Do not take acetaminophen for more than 10 days to treat pain, unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Do not take acetaminophen for more than 3 days to treat a fever, unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Your pain or fever may need to be treated another way if it lasts longer than a few days.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Acetaminophen Overdose (Ambulatory Care)

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