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Pharmacotherapy. 2003 Aug;23(8):1052-9.

Acetaminophen intoxication and length of treatment: how long is long enough?

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Division of Pediatric Pharmacology and Critical Care, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-6010, USA.


The currently recommended dosing scheme for treating acetaminophen overdose in the United States consists of a loading dose of oral N-acetylcysteine 140 mg/kg, followed by 70 mg/kg every 4 hours for 17 doses, for a total of 72 hours of oral N-acetylcysteine therapy. This protocol has been both effective and safe. We critically evaluated the evidence that supports reducing the course of N-acetylcysteine therapy from 72 hours to 24 or 36 hours. This shorter regimen offers important benefits for both the patient and the patient's family, such as increased drug tolerability and reduced hospital stay. Patients who intentionally ingested acetaminophen with harmful intent could receive appropriate psychosocial treatment more quickly. In addition, shorter courses of N-acetylcysteine therapy have positive financial ramifications by reducing the hospital stay by 1 or 2 days. Clearly, a shorter treatment regimen would not be appropriate for all patients, particularly those who seek treatment late (> 24 hrs after ingestion) and those with evidence of organ toxicity. In order to provide the necessary evidence to support a change in accepted clinical practice, further investigation on the safety and efficacy of a shorter N-acetylcysteine regimen should be conducted by clinical researchers in a controlled manner.

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