But what about a "staggered overdose"? That is, people who are taking a little too much over a period of time – could they be just as bad off, or even worse off?
Yes, say researchers – a little-by-little overdose could be even more serious than a one time large overdose – and it could be just as life-threatening.
Researchers at Edinburgh University studied the cases of 161 patients who had come to the hospital there over a 16 year period. They also looked at cases of 663 patients with paracetamol/acetaminophen overdose. Those with the gradual overdose were more likely to develop liver and brain problems, need kidney dialysis, or help breathing. The overdoses were also more likely to be fatal.
To make matters worse, the blood test that would identify a one-time overdose will not identify the staggered overdose. Meaning that it will be easy for your doctor to miss.
The message is clear – follow the instructions on the label, check the ingredients of medications you’re taking, and if you need more pain relief, see a doctor. Just taking "a little more" of something to see if it relieves the pain is not the answer.
To read more, see: Death more likely from paracetamol build-up than single overdose, and from the BBC Paracetamol warning: ‘Slightly too much can cause overdose’