Acetaminophen overdose can produce acute drug-induced hepatitis, which can lead to fulminant hepatic failure and death. In overdose, mental status changes develop over time, typically 24 to 72 hours, which suggests that some time has elapsed since this patient ingested the acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is metabolically activated by the cytochrome P450 system to a reactive metabolite that subsequently depletes glutathione (which is required to clear drug metabolites). N-acetylcysteine can be used to replete glutathione, allowing clearance of these agents and, in many cases, allowing patients to survive acetaminophen overdose. Although there may be some role for activated charcoal early in ingestion, the patient has likely absorbed the drug completely. Likewise, serum of ipecac (to induce vomiting) and gastric lavage are unlikely to be effective at this point. Liver transplantation would be considered if the patient failed to respond to N-acetylcysteine.
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Seminars in Medical Practice
Hospital Physician Board Review Manuals
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Updated 9/7/07 kkj