N-acetylcysteine: multiple clinical applications

Am Fam Physician. 2009 Aug 1;80(3):265-9.


N-acetylcysteine is the acetylated variant of the amino acid L-cysteine and is widely used as the specific antidote for acetaminophen overdose. Other applications for N-acetylcysteine supplementation supported by scientific evidence include prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation, prevention of contrast-induced kidney damage during imaging procedures, attenuation of illness from the influenza virus when started before infection, treatment of pulmonary fibrosis, and treatment of infertility in patients with clomiphene-resistant polycystic ovary syndrome. Preliminary studies suggest that N-acetylcysteine may also have a role as a cancer chemopreventive, an adjunct in the eradication of Helicobacter pylori, and prophylaxis of gentamicin-induced hearing loss in patients on renal dialysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / poisoning
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Acetylcysteine / therapeutic use*
  • Antidotes / pharmacology
  • Antidotes / therapeutic use
  • Expectorants / pharmacology
  • Expectorants / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology
  • Free Radical Scavengers / therapeutic use
  • Hearing Loss / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / drug therapy


  • Antidotes
  • Expectorants
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Acetaminophen
  • Acetylcysteine