The therapeutic use of acetaminophen in patients with liver disease

Am J Ther. Mar-Apr 2005;12(2):133-41. doi: 10.1097/01.mjt.0000140216.40700.95.


Acetaminophen has been used safely and effectively for many years to manage pain and/or fever in patients of all ages. It is commonly recommended as first-line therapy for a variety of patients and conditions, including the elderly, children with viral illnesses, and patients with osteoarthritis, gastrointestinal conditions, bleeding disorders, cardiovascular disease, or renal disease. However, its use is often avoided in patients with chronic liver disease. The perception that acetaminophen should be avoided in such patients arose from awareness of the association between massive acetaminophen overdose and hepatotoxicity, combined with a lack of understanding of the metabolism of acetaminophen in patients with liver disease. There are various theoretical mechanisms of acetaminophen hepatotoxicity in chronic liver disease including: altered metabolism and depleted glutathione stores that would be expected to increase accumulation of the hepatotoxic intermediate, N-acetyl-p-benzoquinone imine (NAPQI). Available studies in patients with chronic liver disease, however, have shown that although the half-life of acetaminophen may be prolonged, cytochrome P-450 activity is not increased and glutathione stores are not depleted to critical levels in those taking recommended doses. Furthermore, acetaminophen has been studied in a variety of liver diseases without evidence of increased risk of hepatotoxicity at currently recommended doses. Therefore, acetaminophen can be used safely in patients with liver disease and is a preferred analgesic/antipyretic because of the absence of the platelet impairment, gastrointestinal toxicity, and nephrotoxicity associated with nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects
  • Acetaminophen / pharmacokinetics*
  • Acetaminophen / therapeutic use*
  • Acute Disease
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / pharmacokinetics*
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / metabolism*
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic / metabolism


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Acetaminophen
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System