WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The common painkiller acetaminophen can protect the kidneys from damage caused by crushing wounds such as those seen in earthquake victims or after car accidents, researchers reported on Monday.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may offer a cheap and easy way to help prevent kidney failure among the many victims of last month's quake in Haiti, which destroyed much of the capital Port-au-Prince and killed 200,000 people.
Many of those injured have severe crush injuries -- which can damage the kidneys long-term as the body breaks down the dying muscle and the kidneys try to process damaging chemicals released in the process.
Acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, is sold commercially under names such as Tylenol and is widely available generically. It is usually used to lower fevers, treat headaches and relieve aches and pains.
Olivier Boutaud of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and colleagues tested rats, giving them crushing injuries and also treating them either before or immediately after with acetaminophen.
Kidney damage was greatly reduced in the treated rates, they found.
Similar damage is done to muscles by rhabdomyolysis, an unusual side-effect of statin drugs used to lower cholesterol, Boutaud and colleagues said, and it may be possible to use acetaminophen to prevent kidney damage from this.
Doctors usually try to prevent this sort of kidney damage by pumping patients full of fluids and, in extreme cases, with dialysis. Using acetaminophen would be a much easier and less expensive route.
"This is a novel application of acetaminophen," Boutaud said in a statement.
The researchers are already testing another possible use for the drug in patients with a type of bleeding in the brain called subarachnoid hemorrhage. In this condition, red blood cells in the cerebrospinal fluid are broken down and release hemoglobin, which can also damage the kidneys.
If acetaminophen works in the way the researchers think it does, it could help prevent some of the damage done by sickle cell disease or malaria, both of which also break down red blood cells, and perhaps it may help in heart attack patients as well.
(Reporting by Maggie Fox; editing by Mohammad Zargham)