Frequently Asked Questions

Acetaminophen Overdose, Ambulatory Care

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Acetaminophen overdose

means taking more acetaminophen (APAP) than it is safe to take. It may also be called APAP poisoning. When used correctly, APAP is a safe drug that decreases or takes away pain and lowers fevers. Many medicines contain APAP, including some that you can buy without a prescription.

Common symptoms include the following:

  • First 24 hours:

    • Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and loss of appetite

    • Paleness

    • Tiredness

    • Sweating

  • 24 to 72 hours after the overdose: You may have any of the symptoms listed above, plus:

    • Pain in your upper right side

    • Dark-colored urine

    • Urinating less often than normal

    • Skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellow

  • 72 to 96 hours after the overdose: You may have any of the symptoms listed above, plus:

    • Blood in your urine

    • Fever, lightheadedness, fainting

    • Fast breathing, trouble breathing

    • Extreme weakness or tiredness

    • Feeling very hungry, shaking

    • Blurred vision, a fast heartbeat, headache that will not go away

    • Trouble staying awake

    • Confusion

    • Coma

Seek immediate care for the following symptoms:

  • Someone you know takes too much APAP and is unconscious.

  • Confusion or feeling more tired than usual, or you are sweating more than normal

  • Severe nausea and vomiting

  • Unable to have a bowel movement or urinate

  • Skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow

Treatment for acetaminophen overdose

depends on how much time has passed since the overdose and whether the overdose happened all at one time or over a longer period of time. You may be given activated charcoal medicine to soak up the APAP that is still in your stomach. Activated charcoal will make you vomit. Gastric lavage may be needed to clean out your stomach to get rid of the APAP. Gastric lavage is also called having your stomach pumped. You may be given antidote medicine to stop the effect of the overdose. You may also be given medicine to slow down the effects of APAP.

Prevent acetaminophen overdose:

  • Read labels carefully. Read the labels of the medicines that you take. If your medicine contains APAP, it will be listed in the active ingredients section. Check carefully to see if the APAP is a regular or extended-release form. Ask your healthcare provider if you are not sure what is in your medicine.

  • Take the correct dose. Make sure you take the right amount and wait the right number of hours between doses. Never take more than the label says to take. Do not take APAP for more days than directed. If the medicine came with a special device such as a spoon or dropper, use that device to measure your medicine.

  • Do not take acetaminophen for too many days in a row. Do not take APAP for more than 10 days to treat pain, unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Do not take APAP for more than 3 days to treat a fever, unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Your pain or fever may need to be treated another way if it lasts more than a few days.

  • Do not take more than 1 type of acetaminophen at a time. Many combination medicines contain APAP. Make sure the total dose of APAP you take is not more than 4,000 milligrams (4 grams) in 1 day. Ask your healthcare provider if you are not sure how much you are taking.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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