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Acetaminophen



Why Get Tested

To determine if an overdose has occurred to determine risk of liver damage and to help determine if treatment with an antidote is require

When To Get Tested

When it is suspected that a person has ingested an overdose of acetaminophen or has signs and symptoms of toxicity such as nausea vomiting and abdominal pain when following a patient every 4 to 6 hours after an overdose of the drug is ingested

Sample Required

A blood sample drawn from a vein in the arm

Test Preparation Needed

None




Common Questions


The test for acetaminophen is used to measure the level of drug in the blood in order to establish a diagnosis of overdosage to assess the risk of liver damage and to help decide on the need for treatment Prompt diagnosis and treatment are important for a positive outcome Since high levels of acetaminophen can be toxic to the liver health practitioners may also order tests such as AST and ALT to detect liver damage A PT may be used to detect impaired liver function A health practitioner might also order serum salicylate levels or a urine drug screen for unconscious patients or those for whom there is a suspicion of ingestion of other substances Other possible tests include blood gases lactate level and metabolic panel with creatinine These are used to monitor severity of liver failure and in cases of severe overdose determine whether an overdose patient would benefit from liver transplantation Women of childbearing age who have suspected acetaminophen overdose may get human chorionic gonadotropin hCG tests to determine if they are pregnant because the drug crosses the placenta and can harm the fetus

Health practitioners may order acetaminophen levels beginning at 4 hours after ingestion or possible ingestion and then every 4 to 6 hours to monitor whether the drug level is increasing or decreasing Samples collected too soon after ingestion may not accurately reflect the amount absorbed from the stomach into the blood Testing may be ordered when a person has signs and symptoms of an overdose These can appear as early as 2 to 3 hours after ingestion or may not occur for 12 or more hours Some of these include Nausea vomiting diarrhea Loss of appetite Abdominal pain or cramping Irritability Sweating If untreated toxicity can progress within 3 to 4 days to include jaundice liver and kidney failure convulsions coma and death If treatment is received within 8 hours of the overdose however there is a very good chance of recovery For children who have taken acetaminophen in liquid form a treatment decision may be made as soon as 2 hours after ingestion since the drug is absorbed more rapidly in this form

The table below summarizes some results that may be seen Acetaminophen Level Result Interpretation 10-20 mcg mL Therapeutic levels Less than 150 mcg mL 4 hours after ingestion Low risk of liver damage Greater than 200 mcg mL 4 hours after ingestion Or Greater than 50 mcg mL 12 hours after ingestion Associated with toxicity and liver damage The levels discussed above typically apply to a single ingestion of a toxic amount of the drug They do not necessarily apply to cases in which the recommended amount of acetaminophen has been exceeded over a period of time chronic overdose ingestion However a health practitioner may take acetaminophen levels into account along with clinical signs and symptoms and liver tests to determine the risk and or presence of liver damage in chronic overdose cases

Be aware that many prescription and nonprescription medications contain acetaminophen in combination with other medications Do not take more than one medication that contains acetaminophen at a time If you drink three or more alcoholic beverages each day ask your healthcare provider if you should take acetaminophen If you will be taking more than the occasional 1 or 2 doses of acetaminophen do not drink alcohol as this may increase the chance of liver damage

Acetaminophen is one of the safest most effective drugs known if used at the recommended dose and dose interval

Anyone who is showing signs of acetaminophen poisoning should be taken to the emergency room If it is established that an overdose occurred the person may be given an antidote N-acetylcysteine or NAC which is most effective if given within the first 8-12 hours following ingestion The person may also receive other medicines to help treat symptoms If it is suspected that some of the drug is still in the stomach usually within 4 hours after ingestion the person may be given activated charcoal which absorbs any residual drug and prevents it from being absorbed into the body Within about 1 hour of ingestion someone may receive gastric lavage It involves pumping liquid usually water or saline into the stomach and suctioning the liquid and other stomach contents out through a tube Sometimes extensive liver damage occurs despite treatment with the antidote N-acetylcysteine If liver failure results after an overdose a liver transplant may be necessary