The Most Dangerous Medicine?

Written by Dr. Dave Hnida CBS4 Medical EditorThat’s what some experts are calling acetaminophen in light of new research that shows even small amounts above and beyond recommended doses can cause big problems.

Certainly, I don’t think I would put Tylenol type medications on par with strychnine or arsenic– the danger lies in how people look at acetaminophen. Its over-the-counter so it must be safe. And that, my friends, is a dangerous approach to any medicine.

Complicating matters is the thinking that to run into trouble with acetaminophen, you need to gobble down large doses in one big shot or two. But according to this research, it’s the additive effect of smaller, extra  amounts over the course of days that can beat up your liver.

And the folks who tend to have trouble are the ones who take it for routine medical problems such as headache, toothaches, sprains, and so forth. They take more than they should, or mix it with other meds that also have acetaminophen as an ingredient , then their liver goes kaput.

And for us doctors, it’s a tough diagnosis. Take a big, giant overdose, and we can do a blood test that measure the products and its byproducts in your system. But slowly overdose, and the blood levels can be normal.

Bottom line –follow directions to a “T”. Dont mix and match meds without checking with your doc or pharmacist. A little more doesn’t mean better. And by all means, never drink alcohol if you’re on an acetaminophen product.

Its good stuff, and a terrific medicine— but you’ll need a liver transplant if you don’t play by the rules.


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