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Lancet. 2008 Feb 16;371(9612):579-87. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(08)60270-6.

Multiple-dose activated charcoal in acute self-poisoning: a randomised controlled trial.

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Centre for Tropical Medicine, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.



The case-fatality for intentional self-poisoning in the rural developing world is 10-50-fold higher than that in industrialised countries, mostly because of the use of highly toxic pesticides and plants. We therefore aimed to assess whether routine treatment with multiple-dose activated charcoal, to interrupt enterovascular or enterohepatic circulations, offers benefit compared with no charcoal in such an environment.


We did an open-label, parallel group, randomised, controlled trial of six 50 g doses of activated charcoal at 4-h intervals versus no charcoal versus one 50 g dose of activated charcoal in three Sri Lankan hospitals. 4632 patients were randomised to receive no charcoal (n=1554), one dose of charcoal (n=1545), or six doses of charcoal (n=1533); outcomes were available for 4629 patients. 2338 (51%) individuals had ingested pesticides, whereas 1647 (36%) had ingested yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana) seeds. Mortality was the primary outcome measure. Analysis was by intention to treat. The trial is registered with as ISRCTN02920054.


Mortality did not differ between the groups. 97 (6.3%) of 1531 participants in the multiple-dose group died, compared with 105 (6.8%) of 1554 in the no charcoal group (adjusted odds ratio 0.96, 95% CI 0.70-1.33). No differences were noted for patients who took particular poisons, were severely ill on admission, or who presented early.


We cannot recommend the routine use of multiple-dose activated charcoal in rural Asia Pacific; although further studies of early charcoal administration might be useful, effective affordable treatments are urgently needed.

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