Plasma glutathione S-transferase (GST) measurements have been used to study early changes in hepatocellular integrity after paracetamol overdose and treatment with N-acetylcysteine (NAC). Patients admitted within seven hours and successfully treated had raised or equivocal GST on admission and each showed a transient peak in GST approximately 12 hours after the overdose. Similar, though smaller changes in GST, were seen in untreated patients whose paracetamol level fell below the treatment line. The plasma GST concentrations in successfully treated patients were small compared with values found in patients who subsequently developed severe liver damage. The changes in GST concentration observed in patients who developed severe liver damage indicated that distinct early and late phases of paracetamol-induced hepatotoxicity occurred. Although the mechanism by which paracetamol exerts its early toxic effect is unclear, our data suggest that prompt treatment with NAC can successfully prevent both clinical and subclinical hepatotoxicity in this early period.
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