Tylenol Troubles

It's one of the most popular pain medicines in the U.S. But every year, 150 Americans die from accidentally taking too much acetaminophen, the drug found in Tylenol.

The drug is linked to more deaths than any other over-the-counter pain reliever.

Here's how to keep your family safe from any costly side effects.

When you're in pain, they make it stop-but how many pills do you pop for relief? Surveys show a quarter of Americans routinely takes more over-the-counter pain pills than they should.

"We're a medicine-taking culture. We, we, reach for a pill for all of our medical problems," says Alexander Kuo, MD, a Gastroenterologist at UC San Diego Health System.

But Doctor Alexander Kuo says the popular drug acetaminophen-found in Tylenol, can be dangerous in high doses. It's the nation's leading cause of acute liver failure.

"The problem is when people abuse it, when they take more than is healthy for them," says Dr. Kuo.

For healthy people, the standard dose is no more than 4,000 milligrams in a 24-hour period.

But if you have chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis, it's less than 2,000 milligrams. People who drink alcohol should also be cautious since alcohol combined with acetaminophen can lower the threshold for liver damage.

The tricky part-acetaminophen is found in other meds like Nyquil, Excedrin, Sudafed, Robitussin, and Benadryl. So, you might be doubling your dose without knowing it.

"Suddenly, they've gone from a safe amount of Tylenol to an unsafe amount," explains Dr. Kuo.

Acetaminophen overdose sends as many as 78,000 Americans to the ER every year. But toxicologist Richard Clark says pain meds like ibuprofen and aspirin also carry risks.

"If you took the maximum daily dose of ibuprofen for a week or two, 30-percent of everybody is going to have microscopic hemorrhages of their stomach,” says Dr. Richard Clark, MD, a Toxicologist at UC San Diego Health System.

The bottom line is, only take them when you need them and always follow dosing instructions.

"Limited use is perfectly safe," says Dr. Kuo.

Countries like Great Britain, Switzerland, and New Zealand have limited how much acetaminophen people can buy at one time or require it to be sold only by pharmacies.

Tylenol Troubles
REPORT #2053

TYLENOL PRODUCTS: Americans consume Tylenol in hopes to receive temporary pain relief, but sometimes we consume more than we are supposed to. Common uses for Tylenol include toothaches, headaches, osteoarthritis, menstrual cramps, cold/flu aches, and it is used as a fever reducer. Tylenol also offers pain relief to children and it is FDA-tested and safe for their little bodies. Tylenol has several types of pain relievers that come in liquid syrup and pill forms that cater to the person's preference. All medication is taken orally and should be taken as soon as symptoms begin to occur. (Source: http://www.webmd.com/drugs/drug-7076-Tylenol+Oral.aspx

ACETAMINOPHEN: Acetaminophen is the primary reason why we begin to feel less pain after consumption. Acetaminophen is found in many other over-the-counter and prescription drugs. This makes it easy for consumers to take too much at one time and exceed the recommended dosage without realizing it. This active ingredient is safe to take, but it can be harmful if too much is taken at once. The most common injury from taking too much acetaminophen is liver damage or failure. (Source: http://getreliefresponsibly.com/acetaminophen)

THE TYLENOL BAN: The cause of Tylenol abuse has led some countries to regulate the use. Regulations have developed in New Zealand, Great Britain, and Switzerland to monitor the purchase of Tylenol. Consumers in these countries are limited to the purchase of one Tylenol product at a time and it is only sold in pharmacies. The U.S. has also thought to take a stand against acetaminophen abuse. However, no limits have been set about how much may be purchased at once, there are safety questions and recommended daily dosages placed on the labels of all Tylenol products. (Source: http://www.propublica.org/article/tylenol-mcneil-fda-use-only-as-directed)

For More Information, Contact:

Alexander Kuo, MD
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine
Director of Hepatology
Medical Director, Liver Transplantation
UC San Diego Health System

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