May 25, 2012 — A new study, presented this week at the Digestive Disease Conference in San Diego, CA, warns that 2.5% of hospital patients may be given dosages of Tylenol (acetaminophen) that exceed the recommended daily allowance of 4,000-mg. Furthermore, the researchers were concerned that hospital staff were largely unaware of the problem.
Dr. Jesse Civan led the study, which collected data on 46,000 hospital patients. He reviewed the medications that each patient was given, and found that 1,100 were given more than 4,000-mg per day on at least one day during their stay. The most common cause was a combination of multiple drugs containing acetaminophen, such as Tylenol or Percocet.
Despite the widespread problem, very few patients were given blood tests to check liver function. This suggests an under-awareness of the problem of acetaminophen overdoses in the hospital. Patients were typically only checked for liver function when there was another reason to suspect liver damage.
Even small overdoses of acetaminophen are known to cause liver damage. The problem is most evident in patients who take acetaminophen regularly for chronic pain. Small overdoses, “staggered” over time, are the cause of 25% of Tylenol liver damage cases. Patients typically do not go to the hospital until after the small overdoses have caused significant liver damage, which is one reason why these “staggered” overdose patients generally have a poor prognosis.
During the course of the study, there were no fatal liver injuries as a result of acetaminophen overdoses. However, the researchers did not gather enough data to determine whether high amounts of acetaminophen affected test results.
In conclusion, the researchers recommended that hospital staff and patients should be better informed about the risk of acetaminophen liver damage and overdoses. The authors of the study were most concerned about patients who try to take the same dosages of medications once they go home — these patients could suffer from chronic overdoses over time, leading to significant liver damage.
Many people who have been injured by Tylenol are now filing Tylenol liver damage lawsuits, alleging that the manufacturers of drugs containing acetaminophen have not done enough to warn the public about the significant risks of accidental overdoses and severe liver damage.