Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a pain medicine. Acetaminophen overdose occurs when someone accidentally or intentionally takes more than the normal or recommended amount of this medicine.
Acetaminophen overdose is one of the most common poisonings worldwide. People often think that this medicine is very safe. However, it may be deadly if taken in large doses.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or 1-800-222-1222 for a local poison control center near you.
Acetaminophen is found in a variety of over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers.
Tylenol is a brand name for acetaminophen. Other medicines that contain acatominophen include:
Note: This list is not all inclusive.
Common dosage forms and strengths:
- Suppository: 120 mg*, 125 mg, 325 mg, 650 mg
- Chewable tablets: 80 mg
- Junior tablets: 160 mg
- Regular strength: 325 mg
- Extra strength: 500 mg
- Liquid: 160 mg/teaspoon
- Drops: 100 mg/mL, 120 mg/2.5 mL
*mg = milligrams
You should not take more than 4000 mg of acetaminophen a day. Taking more, especially 7000 mg or more, can lead to a severe overdose if not treated.
Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Appetite loss
- Upset stomach
Note: Symptoms may not occur until 12 or more hours after the acetaminophen was swallowed.
There is no home treatment. Seek immediate medical help.
Before Calling Emergency
The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.
Poison Control What to Expect at the Emergency Room
In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.This is a free and confidential service.
All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Blood tests will be done to check how much acetaminophen is in the blood. The person may receive:
- Activated charcoal
- Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation),and ventilator (breathing machine)
- Blood and urine tests
- Chest x-ray
- CT (computerized tomography, or advanced imaging) scan
- EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Fluids through the vein (intravenous or IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
Some people may require specialized medications (antidote) if poisoning is serious. People with liver disease are more likely to develop serious complications of acetaminophen overdose. Overdose may be either acute (sudden or short-term) or chronic (long-term), depending on the doses taken, and symptoms may therefore vary.
If treatment is received within 8 hours of the overdose, there is a very good chance of recovery.
However, without rapid treatment, a very large overdose of acetaminophen can lead to liver failure and death in a few days.
American Association of Poison Control Centers. Practice Guideline: Acetaminophen poisoning: an evidence-based consensus guideline for out-of-hospital management. Clinical Toxicology. 2006: Vol. 44; pp. 1-18.
Goldfrank LR, ed. Goldfrank's Toxicologic Emergencies. 8th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2006.
Hendrickson RG, McKeown, MJ. Acetaminophen. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 148.
Wolf SJ, Heard K, Sloan EP, Jagoda AS; American College of Emergency Physicians. Clinical policy: critical issues in the management of patients presenting to the emergency department with acetaminophen overdose. Ann Emerg Med. September 2007: Vol. 50; pp 292-313.
|Review Date: 1/23/2015
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.