Harvard Women's Health Watch

Avoiding acetaminophen-related liver injury

Misuse of an otherwise safe painkiller can cause acute liver failure.

It never occurred to Tara Ryan (not her real name) that she could take too much over-the-counter pain medication. She just wanted to relieve the intense back pain from a muscle she pulled while sailing one Friday afternoon. Over the next three days, she took a lot of acetaminophen — judging from the amount left in the bottle, more than twice the recommended maximum. Tara became seriously ill and died Tuesday on the way to the hospital. She never knew that her liver had failed.

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