The aim of this prospective trial was to compare the efficacy of gastric lavage, activated charcoal and ipecacuanha at limiting the absorption of paracetamol in overdose and to assess the significance of the continued absorption of paracetamol following treatment. Patients aged 16 and over who had ingested 5 gms or more of paracetamol within 4h of admission were entered into the trial. The percentage fall in plasma paracetamol level was used as the measure of the success of a treatment at limiting absorption. The mean percentage fall was 39.3 for gastric lavage, 52.2 for activated charcoal and 40.7 for ipecacuanha, with a significant difference between the treatment methods (p = 0.03). Activated charcoal was more effective at limiting the absorption of paracetamol following overdose than either gastric lavage or ipecacuanha induced emesis. In treated patients continuing paracetamol absorption is not significant if more than 2h have elapsed since ingestion.
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