Aims: To investigate the effects of acute paracetamol overdose on renal function, serum and urine electrolyte excretion in man.
Methods: Two studies were performed in patients admitted with paracetamol overdose: a retrospective study examining changes in serum electrolytes, and a prospective study evaluating changes in serum and urine electrolytes. A control group with SSRI overdose was included in the prospective study.
Results: There was a significant dose-dependent relationship between admission (4 h) paracetamol concentration and fall in serum potassium in the retrospective study (P < 0.01) and a significant positive relationship between serum paracetamol at 4 h and fractional excretion of potassium at 12 h postingestion (P < 0.01) in the prospective study. No changes were seen in the control group. No cases developed renal failure.
Conclusions: Paracetamol overdose is associated with dose-related hypokalaemia, and kaliuresis of short duration (<24 h), suggesting a specific renal effect of paracetamol in overdose perhaps via cyclo-oxygenase inhibition. This effect seems distinct from any nephrotoxic effect of paracetamol.