Paracetamol toxicity: How the drug may affect your liver – signs to spot of toxicity

Paracetamol works differently depending on what’s wrong with the body. In the case of an injury, it blocks signals to the brain telling the body it’s in pain. Occasionally, taking too much of  a supposed good thing may cause significant damage to the liver.

Paracetamol overdose is one of the leading causes of acute liver failure.

Paracetamol overdose is one of the leading causes of liver failure.

Scientists have known for decades that paracetamol in large amounts is toxic the liver, but until now its mechanism of poisoning has eluded them.

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Studies have shown significant hepatotoxicity is uncommon in patients who have taken greater than normal doses over three to four days.

 In adults, a dose of 6 grams a day over the preceding 48 hours could potentially lead to toxicity, while in children acute doses above 200 mg/kg could potentially cause toxicity.

Even taking one or two more tablets than recommended can cause serious liver damage and possibly death.

Paracetamol overdose is one of the leading causes of liver failure.

Other signs of liver failure include:

  • Yellowing of your skin and eyeballs (jaundice)
  • Pain in your upper right abdomen
  • Abdominal swelling (ascites)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • A general sense of feeling unwell (malaise)
  • Disorientation or confusion.
  • Sleepiness.

Liver disease and liver failure are usually treated by specialists called hepatologists.

Treatment of liver failure depends on whether it is acute or chronic.

For chronic liver failure, treatment includes changes to the diet and lifestyle, including:

Avoiding alcohol or medications that can harm the liver

Eating less of certain foods, including red meat, cheese and eggs

Weight loss and control of metabolic risk factors, including high blood pressure and diabetes

Cutting down on salt in the diet.

Paracetamol is the most common medicine taken in overdose. It can lead to liver failure in a number of days, despite using medication to protect the liver.

Liver failure can be fatal. 

Some people feel sick, vomit or have abdominal pain after taking too much paracetamol, but often there are no obvious symptoms at first.

Go to A&E even if you’re feeling well.

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