Most people consider alcohol use when they think of liver failure, but the leading cause of acute damage to the organ has nothing to do with drinking. Acetaminophen, usually marketed in the form of Tylenol, is responsible for more cases of acute organ damage than any other risk factor in the country, and the FDA is finally starting to take notice. And additional measures will likely be needed, as acetaminophen has been available over the counter without a prescription for decades, so many people consider it completely safe.
Liver failure can kill within hours, and people who take acetaminophen have to be careful, because it can present suddenly. In general, adults should not take more than 4 grams of acetaminophen in a 24 hour period, as this is the recommended maximum dose. Any more and organ damage is possible. Children are even more at risk and can only tolerate 140 mg per kg of body weight.
In 2011, the FDA acknowledged the risk of acetaminophen use and called for prescription drug manufacturers to label their products more clearly. While this is a modest step forward, the real fear is the acetaminophen in over-the-counter products, and the FDA is not calling for additional safety labeling for these medications. Hopefully that will change in the future, and it just might as there are dozens of lawsuits in progress against Tylenol’s manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson.