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Open Access Research article

The effect of acetaminophen (four grams a day for three consecutive days) on hepatic tests in alcoholic patients – a multicenter randomized study

EK Kuffner1, JL Green1, GM Bogdan1, PC Knox2, RB Palmer1, K Heard1, JT Slattery3 and RC Dart1*

Author Affiliations

1 Rocky Mountain Poison & Drug Center, Denver Health, Denver, CO, USA

2 Recovery Centers of King County, Seattle, WA, USA

3 University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

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BMC Medicine 2007, 5:13  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-5-13

Published: 30 May 2007

Abstract

Background

Hepatic failure has been associated with reported therapeutic use of acetaminophen by alcoholic patients. The highest risk period for alcoholic patients is immediately after discontinuation of alcohol intake. This period exhibits the largest increase in CYP2E1 induction and lowest glutathione levels. Our hypothesis was that common liver tests would be unaffected by administration of the maximum recommended daily dosage of acetaminophen for 3 consecutive days to newly-abstinent alcoholic subjects.

Methods

Adult alcoholic subjects entering two alcohol detoxification centers were enrolled in a prospective double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Subjects were randomized to acetaminophen, 4 g/day, or placebo for 3 consecutive days. The study had 95% probability of detecting a 15 IU/L difference in serum ALT.

Results

A total of 443 subjects were enrolled: 308 (258 completed) received acetaminophen and 135 subjects (114 completed) received placebo. Study groups did not differ in demographics, alcohol consumption, nutritional status or baseline laboratory assessments. The peak mean ALT activity was 57 ± 45 IU/L and 55 ± 48 IU/L in the acetaminophen and placebo groups, respectively. Subgroup analyses for subjects presenting with an elevated ALT, subjects fulfilling a diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis and subjects attaining a peak ALT greater than 200 IU/L showed no statistical difference between the acetaminophen and control groups. The one participant developing an increased international normalized ratio was in the placebo group.

Conclusion

Alcoholic patients treated with the maximum recommended daily dose of acetaminophen for 3 consecutive days did not develop increases in serum transaminase or other measures of liver injury. Treatment of pain or fever for 3 days with acetaminophen appears safe in newly-abstinent alcoholic patients, such as those presenting for acute medical care.