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Measuring plasma paracetamol concentrations in all patients with drug overdose or altered consciousness: Does it change outcome?
  1. P I Dargan,
  2. S Ladhani,
  3. A L Jones
  1. Medical Toxicology Unit, Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals, Avonley Road, London SE14 5ER, UK
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Dargan (paul.dargan{at}


Objective—To assess whether measuring plasma paracetamol concentrations in all patients with drug overdose or collapse (altered consciousness) changes outcome.

Method—A retrospective survey was performed of all patients attending the Accident and Emergency Department at Guy's Hospital, London over a 12 month period who had plasma paracetamol concentrations measured (it is hospital policy that patients presenting after any drug overdose, or with a collapse/altered consciousness have a plasma paracetamol concentration).

Results—A total of 440 patients were identified who had plasma paracetamol concentrations measured, of whom 411 were eligible for the study. Altogether 115 patients presented after a collapse and paracetamol was detected in four of these. A total of 296 patients presented after a drug overdose—136 denied overdose with a paracetamol containing product and paracetamol was not detected in any of these 136 cases. Of the remaining 160 patients who gave a positive history for overdose with paracetamol, 122 presented within 24 hours and 94 had detectable paracetamol values with 16 cases above the treatment line, 12 presented more than 24 hours after ingestion, and 26 presented with a staggered overdose. One patient died as a result of paracetamol overdose.

Conclusions—This is the first study in the United Kingdom to evaluate the clinical value of routine paracetamol levels in patients presenting to the emergency department after any overdose or a collapse. Taking blood samples for plasma paracetamol estimation in patients who deny taking paracetamol is of little clinical value. However, there is the potential for missing significant paracetamol poisoning in patients presenting with collapse and so screening with a plasma paracetamol concentration is clinically justified in these patients. Such an approach can only be justified in a country in which paracetamol poisoning is prevalent, such as the United Kingdom.

  • paracetamol
  • acetaminophen
  • overdose
  • screening
  • prognosis
  • predictive value

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  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.