Tylenol® and other products containing acetaminophen account for a staggering 40% to 50% of all acute liver failure cases each year in the United States, says Robert J. Fontana, MD, and fellow researchers.

A multi-center study that Dr. Fontana and the University of Michigan Health System recently participated in indicated that about half of acetaminophen overdoses that resulted in liver failure were unintentional.

An adult should not take more than 8 Tylenol® Extra Strength pills, which contains 500 milligrams per tablet, in a 24-hour period (i.e. the maximum daily dose is 4,000 milligrams per day). Exceeding that dosage, could lead to inadvertent liver or kidney damage, Dr. Fontana says.

Part of the problem is that so many prescription and non-prescriptive medications include acetaminophen. These medications are often taken in conjunction.
“We’re particularly concerned that health care providers may not be aware of this, and when they prescribe these potent pain medicines, there needs to be greater education of our patients of the total dose it is safe for them to take,” Dr. Fontana cautions. “In addition, patients with severe or chronic pain may take increasing doses of prescription narcotics and not be aware that they contain 500 to 750 milligrams of acetaminophen in each tablet.”

This is a concern not only for adults, but also for children because there’s been a shift toward using acetaminophen products for babies and children. “As parents,” Dr. Fontana comments, “we need to be aware of this so that we avoid inadvertent toxicity in trying to treat our children at home when they have high fevers.”

University of Michigan – March 2006

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