Promethazine overdose: clinical effects, predicting delirium and the effect of charcoal

QJM. 2009 Feb;102(2):123-31. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcn153. Epub 2008 Nov 28.


Objective: The aim of this study was to describe the clinical effects of promethazine in overdose and explore the relationship between delirium and possible predictor variables.

Methods: A case series of promethazine poisonings was identified from a prospective database of poisoning admissions to a regional toxicology service. Data were extracted including demographics, details of ingestion, clinical features including delirium, complications and medical outcomes. In addition to descriptive statistics, a fully Bayesian approach using logistic regression was undertaken to investigate the relationship between predictor variables and delirium.

Results: There were 199 patients with 237 presentations, including 57 patients with 78 promethazine alone overdoses. Of these 57 patients who ingested promethazine alone the median age was 22 years [interquartile range (IQR): 17-31] and 42 were female (74%). The median dose ingested was 625 mg (IQR: 350-1250 mg). Median length of stay was 19 h (IQR: 13-27 h), ten were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and four were ventilated. Delirium occurred in 33 patients (42%), tachycardia (HR>100) occurred on 44 occasions (56%) and hypotension only twice. There were no seizures, dysrhythmias or deaths. Multivariate analysis of 215 presentations (in 181 patients) where dose of promethazine ingested was known demonstrated that dose, administration of charcoal within 2 h and co-ingestants predicted whether patients developed delirium. No relationship was shown for sex and age. A plot of probability that a patient will develop delirium vs. dose was constructed which showed the probability of delirium for 250 mg was 31%, 500 mg was 42% and for 1 g was 55% for promethazine alone overdoses.

Conclusion: The main feature of promethazine toxicity is delirium, the probability of which can be predicted from the dose ingested. The administration of charcoal and the presence of co-ingestants appears to reduce the probability of delirium in a predictable manner.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antidotes / therapeutic use*
  • Charcoal / therapeutic use*
  • Delirium / chemically induced*
  • Delirium / prevention & control
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Overdose / therapy
  • Female
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists / poisoning*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Promethazine / poisoning*
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Antidotes
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists
  • Charcoal
  • Promethazine