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Serious overdosage with atropine is characterized by widespread paralysis of parasympathetically innervated organs. Dry mucous membranes, widely dilated and nonresponsive pupils, tachycardia, fever and cutaneous flush are especially prominent, as are mental and neurological symptoms. Disorientation, mania, hallucinations, gait disturbances and symptoms may last 48 hours or longer. In instances of severe intoxication, respiratory depression, coma, circulatory collapse and death may occur.
The fatal dose of atropine is not known. In the treatment of organophosphorous poisoning, cumulative doses of approximately 2300-3300 mg or more have been administered over several days to 4-5 weeks. In children, medical literature published prior to 1951 reports four deaths, all in patients 10 months to 3 years of age, and all associated with atropine eye drops or ointment. Total estimated ophthalmic doses were 1.6, 2, 4, and 18 mg given as a single dose (2 mg) or over 1-2 days. Review of current published literature since 1950 identified no pediatric deaths associated with atropine. The few deaths in adults were generally seen using typical clinical doses of atropine often in the setting of bradycardia associated with an acute myocardial infarction.
With a dose as low as 0.5 mg, undesirable symptoms or responses of overdosage may occur. These increase in severity and extent with larger doses of the drug (excitement, hallucinations, delirium and coma). Extreme hyperthermia in a newborn has been reported with as little as 0.065 mg orally. However, in the presence of organophosphorous poisoning, much higher doses of atropine appear to be tolerated and required for optimal therapy.
Supportive treatment should be administered as indicated. If respiration is depressed, artificial respiration with oxygen is necessary. Ice bags, alcohol sponges or a hypothermia blanket may be required to reduce fever, especially in children. Catheterization may be necessary if urinary retention occurs. Since atropine elimination takes place through the kidney, output must be maintained and increased if possible, however, dialysis has not been shown to be helpful in overdose situations. Intravenous fluids may be indicated. Because of the affected person's photophobia, the room should be darkened.
In the event of toxic overdosage, a short-acting barbiturate or diazepam may be given as needed to control marked excitement and convulsions. Large doses for sedation should be avoided because central depressant action may coincide with the depression occurring late in atropine poisoning. Central stimulants are not recommended. Physostigmine, given as an atropine antidote by slow intravenous injection of 1 to 4 mg (0.5 to 1.0 mg in children), rapidly abolishes delirium and coma caused by large doses of atropine in most situations. Since physostigmine has a short duration of action, the patient may again lapse into coma after one or two hours and repeated doses are likely to be required. Neostigmine, pilocarpine and methacholine are of little real benefit, since they do not penetrate the blood-brain barrier.
In the face of life-threatening poisoning by organophosphorous nerve agents and insecticides, there are no absolute contraindications for the use of atropine (see WARNINGS).
Last reviewed on RxList: 11/20/2008
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.
Additional Atropen Information
- Atropen Drug Interactions Center: atropine im
- Atropen Side Effects Center
- Atropen FDA Approved Prescribing Information including Dosage
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