Paracetamol: The stealthy killer lurking in every home
22:26 GMT, 25 March 2012
Thousands of packs of paracetamol are sold in supermarkets and chemists every day
Paracetamol is one of the most common painkillers we use — every day thousands of packs are sold in supermarkets and chemists, and it’s our favourite remedy for dealing with a headache.
But should there be tighter controls over its sale, when one of the hidden side-effects can be devastating liver damage
The family of Desiree Phillips certainly thinks so — the 20-year-old single mum died last August of acute liver failure caused by paracetamol poisoning.
In pain after an operation to remove
non-cancerous lumps in her breasts nine days earlier, Desiree was
recovering at home, taking ‘a few more’ tablets than the recommended
maximum daily dose of eight 500mg tablets, when she was found
unconscious and rushed back to hospital.
She underwent a liver transplant but
it was not successful. Paracetamol had built up in her body without
anyone noticing — the drug produces a by-product known as NAPQI, which
attacks the liver. As it gradually accumulates, it can result in a
Last November, a medical journal published research showing that just a few extra paracetamol daily can be fatal and that a staggered overdose is much more likely to be fatal than a deliberate one. Doctors say that when the danger levels of toxicity are reached, many patients show no symptoms for 24 hours, by which time it may be too late.
The Government is rightly concerned about the effect of binge drinking on our livers — hence David Cameron’s campaign to introduce minimum pricing of alcohol — but overdosing on paracetamol, not booze, is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the UK.
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Yet still the National Health Service say there’s no cause for concern. Millions of us use the drug with no side-effects. But when you are in chronic pain — the elderly with aching joints or a workaholic suffering from repetitive headaches — more and more of us think: ‘To hell with the stated daily dose, I’ll just take a couple more.’
I’ve written before about the dangers of addiction to over-the-counter drugs such as Nurofen Plus, but paracetamol is available in so many combinations, as well as a hot drink, it’s easy to see how someone could unwittingly be building up toxic levels in their system.
There are no checks when you buy a packet of paracetamol, unlike codeine. That needs to end. All painkillers should be carefully controlled — because we have become a nation of massive pill-poppers. An ageing population is being handed huge amounts of prescription drugs to deal with arthritis and spinal degeneration. These drugs are often supplemented with over-the-counter preparations which no one is monitoring.
The number of people addicted to non-prescription painkillers is soaring and still the Government doesn’t intervene. Now, there’s a new danger — 39,000 packs of co-codamol, containing paracetamol and codeine, which are three times stronger than the dose stated on the packet, have gone on sale by mistake.
A spokesman for the UK medicines regulator said: ‘If you feel you have taken the wrong strength tablet, and in the unlikely event you feel unwell, speak to your GP.’ That sounds pretty complacent to me.
Finally, I tried an experiment. I stopped taking two paracetamol for a headache a year ago. One 500mg pill works perfectly. So why are manufacturers still telling us to take two, four times a day
I can't let Harry go
Gushing and gurgling like one of her sink plungers, Amanda Lamb presents a daytime decorating show for Channel 4, You Deserve This House. Last Friday, an 86-year-old marathon runner’s home got a makeover — but Amanda’s own career is also getting a boost.
Amanda Lamb (right) can thank Harry Hill for millions of new fans
She can thank Harry Hill for millions of
new fans — the quirky comic wrote a catchy song about her and turned it
into a running gag on his TV Burp show, with nuns, a gang in Victorian
costumes, and Harry’s Sir Alan Sugar puppet chanting out the chorus
Everybody Loves Amanda Lamb. It’s a huge hit on YouTube.
Sadly, Harry’s TV Burp ended on Saturday and I was roped in to sing the Amanda song for one final time along with my Loose Women mates. The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent are waging a huge publicity war as they battle for viewers but Harry has been a hit for more than a decade.
I can’t believe ITV will let him go as he has cleverly poked fun at every genre on the box. Who else could send up a pretentious BBC series about Art Nouveau, Jeremy Paxman on Empire, as well as the soaps, for a prime-time audience Never mind Amanda Lamb and her staple gun — let’s save Harry Hill!
Janet was disappointed with the Marni and H&M range as many items sold out instantly
Show me the Marni, H&M
Designer collaborations with big clothing retailers always sell out in hours — so when I heard that one of my favourites, Marni, had produced an affordable range for H & M, I persuaded my friend Gemma to order me a couple of pieces along with her own, so we’d save on delivery charges.
It took hours online, but we were thrilled to receive an email saying Gemma’s credit card had been debited.
This turned out to be rubbish — when the order arrived, the coat and cardigan I was looking forward to wearing were nowhere to be seen and the delivery note just said ‘sold out’. H & M got loads of great press for this range — shame they treat customers so badly.
My hols have hit the buffers
Do you hate those ‘holiday in Britain’ ads with Stephen Fry and that irritating Michelle from Downton Abbey as much as I do Britain is beautiful, and we don’t need taxpayers’ money wasted on getting Julie Walters (left) to cuddle a lamb in the Lake District to encourage us to take a break close to home.
I planned a few days walking in the Highlands, followed by a weekend in Cornwall this July — but I can’t book to go by train. Most operators (First Great Western and East Coast) have not published their timetables beyond the second week of June! Well done, everyone! An expensive Government campaign — but you can’t book the blasted tickets for the school holidays.
Another example of joined-up thinking, Coalition style. Virgin at least are fine — you can book until early September. But if you fancy visiting Edinburgh or St Ives, best strap on a pair of wings and flap your arms.
Why did the BBC choose Engelbert Humperdinck to represent Britain in the Eurovision song contest in May What perverted staff away-day came up with this ‘ironic’ disaster
The UK has a huge wealth of musical talent, so treating this event like a pantomime when we could be showcasing a new star on the world stage is a mistake. It reinforces the notion that Britain is a theme park trapped by nostalgia for all things naff.
As a pensioner, I want older people to get opportunities, but this 75-year-old crooner (who mostly lives in LA while his wife runs their Victorian mansion near Leicester) hasn’t had a Top 20 hit since 1972.
A confident Enge tells interviewers that women still throw their keys and undies at him — ‘sometimes with phone numbers written in the crotch’. Too much information! It’s not as if he’s the oldest contestant — the Russians are entering a bunch of grannies in folk costume.
The final insult is that he plans to wear a suit by the Froggie designer who dresses President Sarkozy — sacre bleu!
At least he could have flown the flag and worn something wonderful from Savile Row.