Can You Die From a Tylenol Overdose?

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Tylenol, also known as acetaminophen or paracetamol.
Tylenol, also known as acetaminophen or paracetamol. (Image: Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Or Hiltch)

Tylenol, also known as acetaminophen or paracetamol, is used as an over-the-counter painkiller. An overdose can cause liver failure, killing many people every year in the United States and worldwide.

Accidental Overdose

Acetaminophen overdose occurs after taking larger than normal doses several times a day, over the course of several days, or after ingesting a single large dose.

Effects

Acetaminophen poisoning causes liver toxicity, which may lead to death. Initial symptoms usually include vomiting. Without treatment, liver failure can ensue after 4 to 5 days.

Treatment

Doctors use N-acetylcysteine and other liver-protective substances to treat acute acetaminophen overdose. The treatment has a higher chance of success if administered within 24 hours. If given within 8 hours of the overdose, it is nearly always successful.

Suicides

While many suicide attempts by acetaminophen overdose occur every year, this over-the-counter painkiller is not a very effective intentional poison, as it does not cause instantaneous death. Accidental acetaminophen overdoses have a higher fatality rate than suicide attempts using the drug.

Warning

Accidental acetaminophen poisoning occurs more commonly in chronic alcohol drinkers, who should use extreme caution and consult a doctor before taking the drug.

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