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Scand J Gastroenterol. 2012 Nov;47(11):1344-52. doi: 10.3109/00365521.2012.703236. Epub 2012 Jul 25.

Paracetamol intoxications: a retrospective population-based study in Iceland.

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Faculty of Public Health, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland.



Paracetamol is the most common cause of acute liver failure (ALF) in many countries. Much data on paracetamol toxicity originate from liver transplant centers and tertiary referral institutions. The authors analyzed the population-based annual incidence of paracetamol overdoses and ALF, and described the risk factors for hepatotoxicity.


A search was undertaken for the diagnosis of paracetamol overdoses in the diagnoses registry of the National University Hospital of Iceland from 2004 to 2009 serving a population of 219,249 inhabitants. Relevant information was collected from medical records.


A total of 1913 drug-related poisoning episodes were identified and reviewed, 352 (18%) involved paracetamol overdoses. The annual incidence of paracetamol overdoses declined from 30.0 (2004) to 16.0/100,000 per year (2009) (p < 0.05). The female/male ratio was 3.0 and the largest age group was 16-25 years. After the initial examination, 26% were discharged home. Hospitalized index visits were 182 with accidental overdoses constituting 16 (9%) with no gender difference. Compared with intentional overdose the accidental group had higher aminotransferases (p < 0.005). ALF occurred in 3.8% (7/182) of the index visits and the incidence was 0.7/100,000 per year. In the intentional group, 1.2% (2/163) developed ALF versus 25% (4/16) of the accidental group (p = 0.001). Only one patient died from ALF and none underwent liver transplantation.


The annual incidence of paracetamol overdoses was high in this population-based study but declined. Young females with intentional overdose accounted for most of the cases, whereas accidental overdoses were more common in older patients. The occurrence of ALF was low and mostly associated with accidental overdose.

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