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New blood test can spot liver damage signs after paracetamol overdose

Tuesday 21st November 2017
Scientists have created a new blood test that can identify which patients are at risk of liver damage following a paracetamol overdose. Image: Kenishirotie via iStock
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UK scientists have developed a new blood test that is designed to spot liver damage risk in patients who have overdosed on paracetamol.

The test has been created by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Liverpool, who found that testing for three specific molecules - miR-122, HMGB1 and FL-K18 - in the blood can help to show signs of damage to the liver.

People who take more than the recommended dose of paracetamol in one go - whether accidentally or otherwise - are at risk of liver damage, but some patients are lucky enough to get away without this. Therefore, offering extra treatment to these individuals would be unnecessary and potentially even put their health at further risk.

Often, people mistakenly take too much paracetamol by combining medications to get rid of a cold or a flu, against medical advice.

The usual treatment given to patients who are believed to have life-threatening levels of paracetamol in their blood is acetylcysteine, administered by an intravenous drip. This can unfortunately have side effects, so having a way to avoid this could help to safeguard a significant number of people's health and prevent them from needing a liver transplant in the future, as can sometimes be needed.

However, thanks to the new blood test, doctors will quickly be able to see which patients are at risk of liver damage and enable them to receive the best treatment for their needs as soon as possible.

Study co-author Dr James Dear of the University of Edinburgh commented: "Paracetamol overdose is very common and presents a large workload for already overstretched emergency departments.

"These new blood tests can identify who will develop liver injury as soon as they first arrive at hospital. This could transform the care of this large, neglected patient group."

Dr Daniel Antoine of the University of Liverpool added that the development of the new blood test was an "excellent example" of collaboration between scientists, clinicians and statisticians to find a solution that could have significant benefits for patients.

Written by Martin Lambert

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