KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV/Grey News) – Millions of people take it every day without thinking. It can help treat headaches, relieve other aches and pains, and reduce fever. But it can also poison you.
It’s acetaminophen, sold under the brand name Tylenol.
While acetaminophen is very effective when used as directed, it is dangerous when overused. Many are unaware of the danger.
Catelyn Buchofen did not realize how dangerous it was. The 29-year-old said she had just started a new job but her insurance had not yet started. When she developed stomach pain, she took acetaminophen. The pain didn’t go away, so I took more, taking it daily for weeks.
“I was trying to use what I knew as a safe solution,” Buchofen said.
I went on vacation, continued to take medication, trying to cope with the pain. She said she probably took twice the recommended amount until the whole thing crashed.
The accident led to her being taken to the hospital.
Over the course of a week, Buchofen’s condition deteriorated. She became weaker and weaker, but her pain persisted. She was taken to the emergency room for treatment, and then fell into a coma.
She had acetaminophen poisoning, and it was serious. Buchofen will need a liver transplant.
Cases like Buchofen’s are more common than most people realize, Dr. Ryan Taylor of the University of Kansas Health System said.
“We see about one or two patients a week coming into the hospital with either intentional or unintentional overuse of acetaminophen,” he said. “(Patients) think they are just taking more. More is better. They will have more pain relief if they take more tablets and don’t think anything of taking more recommended doses because they want more pain relief.”
He says they don’t realize that the more they take, the more they poison themselves.
According to the National Institute of Health, 56,000 people go to emergency rooms for acetaminophen poisoning each year. 500 of them will die. Almost half of these emergency visits are unintended poisonings.
Here in the United States, acetaminophen is readily available. You can buy hundreds of pills at one time. It’s also commonly used in over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, and other pain relievers — even sleep aids. It is also used in prescription medications such as Vicodin and Percocet. You can view a list of common medications here.
Doctors say it’s important to read medication labels on over-the-counter medications and talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your prescribed medications. According to the Liver Foundation, acetaminophen is found in at least 600 other medications. It is the most common drug ingredient in America.
Here are the warning signs of an overdose:
Other countries are working to limit access to the drug. In the UK, acetaminophen is called paracetamol, but this is not the only difference. There is a limit to the number of pills you can buy at one time. And they are kept behind the counter – just like how Sudafed is treated. Medical journals have shown that it reduces suicides and the need for liver transplantation due to overdose. This report can be read here.
Long road to recovery
Buchhoven spent months in the hospital, then more time after her liver transplant in a rehabilitation center. She had to regain simple skills like walking. Almost a year after her horrific ordeal, Bockhoven is back in action and mostly back to her old self. She can enjoy walking with her boyfriend and dogs. She hopes that sharing her story will warn others of the dangers of overusing acetaminophen.
“If we hadn’t come (to the emergency room) that day, I wouldn’t have survived,” Buchofen said. “I would have died or shut down completely.”
She said she was grateful to the providers at St. Luke’s Hospital and Rehabilitation Center who looked after her.
Doctors confirm that acetaminophen is safe and effective when used correctly. They also caution that acetaminophen and alcohol do not mix.
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