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Case report
False-positive paracetamol levels in a patient with hyperbilirubinaemia: clinical perspectives
  1. Joel James,
  2. Madelena Stauss,
  3. Arvind Ponnusamy and
  4. Martin Myers
  1. Royal Preston Hospital, Preston, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Joel James; j.james3{at}


​Serum concentrations of paracetamol are measured to investigate the cause of acute hepatitis, monitor the clearance of paracetamol from the body and to determine if supratherapeutic levels warrant treatment with N-acetylcysteine (NAC). ​A 49-year-old man treated for ischaemic colitis developed worsening renal and liver function tests. As part of the investigation of hepatorenal failure, paracetamol levels were requested, which were elevated at 14 mg/L (normal <4 mg/L) resulting in treatment with NAC. Despite treatment, levels of paracetamol remained elevated and the link between hyperbilirubinemia and false-positive paracetamol levels was identified. ​Bilirubin and its by-products have intense absorbance in the ultraviolet and visible regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, causing interference in the enzymatic colorimetric assay most commonly used to measure paracetamol concentration, resulting in false-positive paracetamol levels. Laboratories correct for this interference above a predetermined bilirubin concentration, termed the Icteric Index; however, in our case this interference occurred at a lower level of hyperbilirubinaemia than previously identified as significant. This interaction was found to be more significant at lower bilirubin levels when low or no paracetamol levels were present in the serum, resulting in a change to laboratory practice and development of a ‘Sliding Scale’ approach to analysis. ​Concurrent bilirubin or Icteric Index measurement is recommended for all laboratories that use the enzymatic colorimetric assay for paracetamol measurement. Lower Icteric Index or bilirubin thresholds are required when low or no paracetamol levels are present in the serum to prevent false-positive paracetamol results. We describe a new ‘Sliding Scale’ approach to analysis, and highlight an important interaction for clinicians to be aware of.

  • drugs: gastrointestinal system
  • hepatitis other
  • nonalcoholic steatosis

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  • Contributors JJ main author: gathering case report details and write up. MS: proof reading and editing of the case report. AP: consultant in charge and final proof reading. MM: explained the biochemical significance of the case and provide outline for discussion and change of practice.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.