London: Patients with paracetamol poisoning could be helped by a new way of delivering an antidote more quickly and with fewer side-effects, researchers say.
Treating patients with the common antidote remedy acetylcysteine over a shorter time period than currently applies leads to fewer side-effects, a trial study found.
Patients are normally given the drug by intravenous drip over a 21-hour period, with a large part of the dose given very quickly.
In a study, patients who received the same dose of acetylcysteine more gradually over a 12-hour period experienced less vomiting and fewer associated reactions.
Their treatment was also less interrupted than those receiving conventional treatment with a 21-hour drip.
Treatment with acetylcysteine often causes vomiting, a drop in blood pressure and other side-effects such as flushing, rashes and difficulty breathing.
Paracetamol is the most common cause of overdose in the UK and every year around 45,000 people are hospitalised for paracetamol poisoning.
The pilot, led by University of Edinburgh scientists, treated more than 200 patients and is the largest trial of its kind for paracetamol poisoning.
The treatment for poisoning was first used and developed by University of Edinburgh doctors in the 1970s.
"Our finding offers a major advance in treating paracetamol poisoning, both in terms of fewer unpleasant side-effects for patients and a shorter hospital stay," said Nick Bateman, Professor at the University of Edinburgh's BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Science.
"We need to do more work on a larger population group to find out whether treatment over a shorter time frame is as safe as the current standard," Bateman said.
The study, published in The Lancet, was carried out with the Universities of Newcastle and Aberdeen and funded by the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government.