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Signs and Symptoms
In acute acetaminophen overdosage, dose-dependent, potentially fatal hepatic necrosis is the most serious adverse effect. Renal tubular necrosis, hypoglycemic coma, and thrombocytopenia may also occur. Plasma acetaminophen levels > 300 mcg/mL at 4 hours after oral ingestion were associated with hepatic damage in 90% of patients; minimal hepatic damage is anticipated if plasma levels at 4 hours are < 150 mcg/mL or < 37.5 mcg/mL at 12 hours after ingestion. Early symptoms following a potentially hepatotoxic overdose may include: nausea, vomiting, diaphoresis, and general malaise. Clinical and laboratory evidence of hepatic toxicity may not be apparent until 48 to 72 hours post-ingestion.
If an acetaminophen overdose is suspected, obtain a serum acetaminophen assay as soon as possible, but no sooner than 4 hours following oral ingestion. Obtain liver function studies initially and repeat at 24-hour intervals. Administer the antidote N-acetylcysteine (NAC) as early as possible. As a guide to treatment of acute ingestion, the acetaminophen level can be plotted against time since oral ingestion on a nomogram (Rumack-Matthew). The lower toxic line on the nomogram is equivalent to 150 mcg/mL at 4 hours and 37.5 mcg/mL at 12 hours. If serum level is above the lower line, administer the entire course of NAC treatment. Withhold NAC therapy if the acetaminophen level is below the lower line.
For additional information, call a poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
Acetaminophen is contraindicated:
Last reviewed on RxList: 11/5/2013
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