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Gastric lavage in paracetamol poisoning
  1. Stewart Teece, Clinical Research Fellow,
  2. Kerstin Hogg, Clinical Research Fellow
  1. Department of Emergency Medicine, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9WL, UK;


    A short cut review was carried out to establish whether gastric lavage is better than activated charcoal in cases of poisoning with paracetamol. Altogether 63 papers were found using the reported search, of which four presented the best evidence to answer the clinical question. The author, date and country of publication, patient group studied, study type, relevant outcomes, results and study weaknesses of these best papers are tabulated. A clinical bottom line is stated.

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    Report by Stewart Teece, Clinical Research FellowChecked by Kerstin Hogg, Clinical Research Fellow

    Clinical scenario

    A 26 year old woman attends the emergency department 40 minutes after having taken 80×500 mg paracetamol tablets. As the dose taken is high and within the past hour you wonder whether she would benefit from gastric lavage.

    Three part question

    In [paracetamol poisoning] is [gastric lavage better than activated charcoal or nothing] at [reducing hepatotoxicity]?

    Search strategy

    Medline 1966-10/03 using the OVID interface. [exp acetaminophen OR OR] AND [exp poisoning OR poison$.mp OR exp overdose OR overdos$.mp] AND [exp gastric lavage OR gastric OR gastric OR exp gastric emptying OR gastric OR exp irrigation OR] LIMIT to human AND English.

    Search outcome

    Altogether 63 papers found of which 59 were irrelevant or of insufficient quality. Four of the remaining papers are shown in table 2, the fifth is a position statement mentioned in the comments section.

    Table 2


    The 1997 Joint Position Statement by the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, European Association of Poisons Centres and Clinical Toxicologists stated gastric lavage should not be routinely used for poisoned patients. A similar statement from the British Poisons Centres indicates that gastric lavage is only to be used within 60 minutes of overdose and only with drugs not absorbed by charcoal.


    Gastric lavage is less effective than charcoal alone after paracetamol poisoning.

    Report by Stewart Teece, Clinical Research FellowChecked by Kerstin Hogg, Clinical Research Fellow