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Hum Exp Toxicol. 2002 Mar;21(3):123-7.

Treatment strategies for early presenting acetaminophen overdose: a survey of medical directors of poison centers in North America and Europe.

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  • 1Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Acetaminophen is frequently used in self-poisoning in Western countries. Although treatment with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) reduces liver injury, no consensus exists on the preferred management of acetaminophen toxicity.


To describe the approach taken by toxicologists in North America and Europe toward the management of acetaminophen toxicity.


Medical directors of poison centers in the US, Canada, and Europe were surveyed by means of a questionnaire presenting two clinical scenarios of acetaminophen overdose: a healthy adolescent with no risk factors who had an acute ingestion of acetaminophen, and an adult with both acute ingestion and possible risk factors. For each case, several questions about the management of these patients were asked.


Questionnaires were sent to medical directors of 76 poison centers in North America and 48 in Europe, with response rates of 62% and 44%, respectively. Forty percent of responders suggested using charcoal 4 hours after ingestion of a potential toxic dose of acetaminophen, and 90% recommended treatment with NAC when levels were above 150 microg/mL but below 200 microg/mL 4 hours after ingestion. Duration of treatment with oral NAC ranged from 24 to 96 hours; 38 responders suggested a duration of 72 hours. Of 49 centers recommending oral NAC, 18 (36.7%) said they might consider treatment for less than 72 hours. Eleven of 29 (37.9%) responders suggested treatment with intravenous NAC for more than 20 hours as their usual protocol or a protocol for specific circumstances.


Our study showed large variability in the management of acetaminophen overdose. Variations in treatment protocols should be addressed in clinical trials to optimize the treatment for this common problem.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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