Paracetamol Overdose
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“My sister recently broke up with her boyfriend and took an overdose of paracetamol. She ended up staying in hospital for several days on a drip. I thought paracetamol was safe?”

No drug is safe if taken in overdose. The reason there is a maximum dose written on the side of all packets of drugs is to ensure that people are aware of how much they can safely take. Paracetamol is a highly dangerous drug if too many are taken. Overdose can lead to liver failure and death. As an adult the maximum safe dose is 2 tablets (500 mg each) taken no more frequently than every 4 hours. In total no more than 8 tablets should be taken in any 24 hour period. At even slightly higher doses, paracetamol can cause severe liver damage. Unfortunately, it may take over 24 hours for any damage to become apparent. This damage may show up as the whites of the eyes becoming yellow (jaundice), or easy bruising.  

It is important to read what is in your medication. Many commonly used pain killers are combinations and may contain paracetamol – these include co-codamol or co-dydramol. It is important not to take extra paracetamol with these. Also, common cold remedies that can be bought at the chemist or supermarket contain paracetamol, so it is always worth remembering to read the packet to see what they contain to prevent any mishaps.

The good news is that in cases of deliberate or accidental paracetamol overdose then blood tests can show up problems just a few hours after an overdose has been taken. More importantly there is an antidote that can be given, but occasionally despite this, things can go very disastrously wrong. 

As with all medication, whether it be bought over the counter, or on prescription, it is important to not exceed the dose that is stated on the pack. If you require more treatment for any symptoms you have contact your GP or pharmacist to get an alternative and to ensure you do not run into any problems.

If you think that you may have taken too many tablets then it is important not to treat yourself. Making yourself sick may make things worse. Contact your GP or pharmacist and they will tell you what action to take.

For more information about Paracetamol click these links: