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