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Background:

Animal studies on acetaminophen toxicity suggest that chronic alcohol intake affects the outcome adversely, whereas acute alcohol intake seems protective. Few clinical data are available.

Methods:

We studied 209 consecutive patients with single-dose acetaminophen overdose. The combined influence of independent variables (gender, age, dose, delay to antidote treatment, chronic and acute alcohol intake and nomogram risk group) on dependent variables (death, development of hepatic encephalopathy and biochemical liver markers) was studied using multiple or logistic regression analysis.

Results:

Fifty-seven (27.3%) patients had chronic alcohol intake and 45 (21.5%) patients had acute alcohol intake. Forty-four (21.1%) patients developed hepatic coma and 20 (43.5%) of these patients died. Chronic alcohol intake was significantly and independently associated with the development of hepatic coma, with a lower prothrombin index, lower platelet count, higher creatinine and higher bilirubin. The relative risks for hepatic coma and death were 5.3 (95% confidence interval, 2.2–12.4) and 1.4 (95% confidence interval, 0.5–3.9), respectively, in the chronic alcohol intake group compared with the no chronic alcohol intake group. Acute alcohol intake was not significantly associated with any of the dependent variables studied.

Conclusions:

Chronic alcohol intake enhances acetaminophen hepatotoxicity, whereas acute alcohol intake does not affect the clinical course.