Drug overdose

General or Other | Emergency Medicine | Drug overdose (Disease)


The term drug overdose (or simply overdose or OD) describes the ingestion or application of a drug or other substance in quantities greater than are recommended or generally practiced. An overdose may result in a toxic state or death.

The symptoms and signs of the intoxication as well as the history surrounding the event can be used to determine the offending drug.

Causes and Risk factors

An overdose occurs when a toxic (poisonous) amount of a drug or medicine is taken. Substances that can cause harm when too much is taken include alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter medications, illegal drugs and some herbal remedies. A person’s tolerance to overdose varies with age, state of health, how the substance was consumed and other factors. The body often heals (with or without treatment).

However, death is a risk in some cases. This may be instant or may follow more slowly if organs are permanently damaged.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Treatment for overdose may be short term or may involve ongoing treatment (for example, in the case of self-harm or attempted suicide).

Unintentional misuse can include errors in dosage caused by failure to read or understand product labels. Accidental overdoses may also be the result of over-prescription, failure to recognize a drugs active ingredient, or unwitting ingestion by children A common unintentional overdose in young children involves multi-vitamins containing iron. Iron is a component of the hemoglobin molecule in blood, used to transport oxygen to living cells. When taken in small amounts, iron allows the body to replenish hemoglobin, but in large amounts it causes severe pH imbalances in the body. If this overdose is not treated with chelation therapy, it can lead to death or permanent coma. ...