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"Calculated Risk" -- The Discovery Files

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University of Utah mathematicians developed a set of calculus equations to make it easier for doctors to save acetaminophen overdose patients by quickly estimating how much painkiller they took, when they consumed it and whether they will require a liver transplant to survive.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

In Case of Overdose, (Sound effect: writing on chalkboard) Do the Math.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: hospital emergency room) A patient comes into the emergency room, suspected acetaminophen overdose, liver failure. Doctors must make a crucial decision: Treat with an antidote, or put the patient on the short list for a liver transplant. Some patients will survive with medical treatment. Some will die without a liver transplant. But start treatment and you reduce the patient's odds of getting that new liver, or risk delaying the transplant past the window when the body can tolerate it.

To make the "treat or transplant" decision, doctors need to know the amount of acetaminophen consumed, and when. The questions may have a mathematical solution.

At the University of Utah, mathematicians have developed a set of calculus equations to quickly estimate how much acetaminophen was taken based on lab test results and accurately predict which patients will survive with treatment and which will die without a transplant.

4 grams of acetaminophen is the maximum daily dosage. It takes only 6 grams to cause liver damage. Twenty can kill you. With acetaminophen the leading cause of acute liver injury in the U.S., this new mathematical method could save lives.

You know what's ironic? Math used to give me headaches.

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