Within the first 24 hours after an acetaminophen overdose, the following symptoms often occur:
- Appetite loss
However, many people experience no early symptoms after an overdose. In the next 24 to 72 hours, the early symptoms start to go away, but liver damage starts to occur. The first symptom of liver damage is usually upper-right abdominal pain or tenderness (near the liver), and a healthcare provider may notice that the liver is enlarged. After this, liver failure may occur, causing symptoms such as:
- Yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- Nausea and vomiting.
Some people also experience kidney failure or heart problems. Death may occur, usually as the result of swelling in the brain, infections, or multiple organ failure.
Early treatment after an overdose with acetaminophen is important. If the overdose was recent, activated charcoal may be given to prevent the body from absorbing the drug. A medication called N-acetylcysteine (Acetadote®, Mucomyst®) is extremely important for the treatment of an overdose and can help prevent liver damage. Treatment will also include supportive care, which consists of treating the symptoms that occur as a result of the overdose. Sometimes, liver transplantation is necessary.
It is important that you seek prompt medical attention if you believe that you may have overdosed on acetaminophen.