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E-pub ahead of print

Systematic review on the use of activated charcoal for gastrointestinal decontamination following acute oral overdose

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  • Lotte C G Hoegberg
  • Greene Shepherd
  • David M Wood
  • Jami Johnson
  • Robert S Hoffman
  • E Martin Caravati
  • Wui Ling Chan
  • Silas W Smith
  • Kent R Olson
  • Sophie Gosselin
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INTRODUCTION: The use of activated charcoal in poisoning remains both a pillar of modern toxicology and a source of debate. Following the publication of the joint position statements on the use of single-dose and multiple-dose activated charcoal by the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology and the European Association of Poison Centres and Clinical Toxicologists, the routine use of activated charcoal declined. Over subsequent years, many new pharmaceuticals became available in modified or alternative-release formulations and additional data on gastric emptying time in poisoning was published, challenging previous assumptions about absorption kinetics. The American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, the European Association of Poison Centres and Clinical Toxicologists and the Asia Pacific Association of Medical Toxicology founded the Clinical Toxicology Recommendations Collaborative to create a framework for evidence-based recommendations for the management of poisoned patients. The activated charcoal workgroup of the Clinical Toxicology Recommendations Collaborative was tasked with reviewing systematically the evidence pertaining to the use of activated charcoal in poisoning in order to update the previous recommendations.

OBJECTIVES: The main objective was: Does oral activated charcoal given to adults or children prevent toxicity or improve clinical outcome and survival of poisoned patients compared to those who do not receive charcoal? Secondary objectives were to evaluate pharmacokinetic outcomes, the role of cathartics, and adverse events to charcoal administration. This systematic review summarizes the available evidence on the efficacy of activated charcoal.

METHODS: A medical librarian created a systematic search strategy for Medline (Ovid), subsequently translated for Embase (via Ovid), CINAHL (via EBSCO), BIOSIS Previews (via Ovid), Web of Science, Scopus, and the Cochrane Library/DARE. All databases were searched from inception to December 31, 2019. There were no language limitations. One author screened all citations identified in the search based on predefined inclusion/exclusion criteria. Excluded citations were confirmed by an additional author and remaining articles were obtained in full text and evaluated by at least two authors for inclusion. All authors cross-referenced full-text articles to identify articles missed in the searches. Data from included articles were extracted by the authors on a standardized spreadsheet and two authors used the GRADE methodology to independently assess the quality and risk of bias of each included study.

RESULTS: From 22,950 titles originally identified, the final data set consisted of 296 human studies, 118 animal studies, and 145 in vitro studies. Also included were 71 human and two animal studies that reported adverse events. The quality was judged to have a Low or Very Low GRADE in 469 (83%) of the studies. Ninety studies were judged to be of Moderate or High GRADE. The higher GRADE studies reported on the following drugs: paracetamol (acetaminophen), phenobarbital, carbamazepine, cardiac glycosides (digoxin and oleander), ethanol, iron, salicylates, theophylline, tricyclic antidepressants, and valproate. Data on newer pharmaceuticals not reviewed in the previous American Academy of Clinical Toxicology/European Association of Poison Centres and Clinical Toxicologists statements such as quetiapine, olanzapine, citalopram, and Factor Xa inhibitors were included. No studies on the optimal dosing for either single-dose or multiple-dose activated charcoal were found. In the reviewed clinical data, the time of administration of the first dose of charcoal was beyond one hour in 97% (n = 1006 individuals), beyond two hours in 36% (n = 491 individuals), and beyond 12 h in 4% (n = 43 individuals) whereas the timing of the first dose in controlled studies was within one hour of ingestion in 48% (n = 2359 individuals) and beyond two hours in 36% (n = 484) of individuals.

CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review found heterogenous data. The higher GRADE data was focused on a few select poisonings, while studies that addressed patients with unknown and or mixed ingestions were hampered by low rates of clinically meaningful toxicity or death. Despite these limitations, they reported a benefit of activated charcoal beyond one hour in many clinical scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical toxicology (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
ISSN1556-3650
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Aug 2021

    Research areas

  • Activated charcoal, acute overdose, additional dose activated charcoal, charcoal, gastrointestinal decontamination, multiple-dose activated charcoal, poisoning, single-dose activated charcoal

ID: 67443603