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Background: Deliberate self-poisoning with yellow oleander seeds is common in Sri Lanka and is associated with severe cardiac toxicity and a mortality rate of about 10%. Specialised treatment with antidigoxin Fab fragments and temporary cardiac pacing is expensive and not widely available. Multiple-dose activated charcoal binds cardiac glycosides in the gut lumen and promotes their elimination. We aimed to assess the efficacy of multiple-dose activated charcoal in the treatment of patients with yellow-oleander poisoning. Methods: On admission, participants received one dose of activated charcoal and were then randomly assigned either 50 g of activated charcoal every 6 h for 3 days or sterile water as placebo. A standard treatment protocol was used in all patients. We monitored cardiac rhythm and did 12-lead electocardiographs as needed. Death was the primary endpoint, and secondary endpoints were life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias, dose of atropine used, need for cardiac pacing, admission to intensive care, and number of days in hospital. Analysis was by intention to treat. Findings: 201 patients received multiple-dose activated charcoal and 200 placebo. There were fewer deaths in the treatment group (five [2.5%] vs 16 [8%]; percentage difference 5.5%; 95% CI 0.6-10.3; p=0.025), and we noted difference in favour of the treatment group for all secondary endpoints, apart from number of days in hospital. The drug was safe and well tolerated. Interpretation: Multiple-dose activated charcoal is effective in reducing deaths and life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias after yellow oleander poisoning and should be considered in all patients. Use of activated charcoal could reduce the cost of treatment.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1935 - 1938