Syrup of ipecac

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"Ipecac" redirects here. For the record label, see Ipecac Recordings.
Syrup of ipecac
Clinical data
Legal status
  • OTC
Routes Oral
CAS number 8012-96-2 N
ATC code R05CA04 V03AB01
Chemical data
Formula ?
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Syrup of ipecac /ˈɪpɨkæk/, commonly referred to as ipecac, is derived from the dried rhizome and roots of the ipecacuanha. It is typically used to induce vomiting, which it accomplishes by irritating the lining of the stomach (gastric mucosa) and by stimulating part of the brain called the medullary chemoreceptor trigger zone.


The commercial preparation of ipecac consists of 1/14 of an alcoholic extract of the roots and rhizomes of ipecac root. The rest is composed of glycerin, sugar syrup, and methylparaben. Ipecac root itself is a poison, but in this diluted form, its ability to induce immediate vomiting means that the syrup is seldom fatal.[1]


Ipecac was used in cough mixtures as an expectorant or an emetic from the 18th until the early 20th century. Ipecac and opium were used to produce Dover's powder, which was used in syrup form.

Pediatricians once recommended ipecac be kept in the home as a ready emetic for use in cases of accidental poisoning.[1] Current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, however, strongly advise against this and in fact recommend the disposal of any syrup of ipecac present in the home.[2] Many toxicological associations have also issued position papers recommending against its use as a first-line treatment for most ingested poisons,[3] because there has been no evidence that syrup of ipecac actually helps improve the outcome in cases of poisoning. Moreover, accidental overdose of ipecac can result when administered in the home.[4] When dealing with poisoning cases in hospital, it becomes difficult to obtain a differential diagnosis when syrup of ipecac has been administered, as this can add further symptoms [5] .

A 2005 review by an HRSA-funded scientific panel concluded that vomiting alone does not reliably remove poisons from the stomach. The study suggested that indications for use of ipecac syrup were rare, and patients should be treated by more effective and safer means. Additionally, its potential side effects, such as lethargy, can be confused with the poison’s effects, complicating diagnosis. Ipecac may also delay the administration or reduce the effectiveness of other treatments, such as activated charcoal, whole bowel irrigation, or oral antidotes.[5]


Ipecac has been used by individuals with bulimia nervosa as a means to achieve weight loss through induced defensive vomiting. Repeated use in this manner is believed to cause damage to the heart and muscles, which can ultimately result in the user's death.[6] Misuse of ipecac has been blamed for the death of singer Karen Carpenter in 1983.[7] It has also been used as an agent for Münchausen syndrome by proxy.[8]

Mechanism of action[edit]

The actions of ipecac are mainly those of its major alkaloids, emetine (methylcephaeline) and cephaeline. They both act locally by irritating the gastric mucosa and centrally by stimulating the medullary chemoreceptor trigger zone to induce vomiting.


Because ipecac has been found to have minimal health benefits, and to be ineffective at purging the body of poisonous substances, global production of the syrup has been stopped. According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, "Ipecac syrup is no longer recommended for routine management of outpatient ingestions [sic] of medications or other chemicals".[9]

A position statement cited several times outlines critical details of its effectiveness, and says "In experimental studies the amount of marker removed by ipecac was highly variable and diminished with time. There is no evidence from clinical studies that ipecac improves the outcome of poisoned patients and its routine administration in the emergency department should be abandoned. There is insufficient data to support or exclude ipecac administration soon after poison ingestion. Ipecac may delay the administration or reduce the effectiveness of activated charcoal, oral antidotes, and whole bowel irrigation. Ipecac should not be administered to a patient who has a decreased level or impending loss of consciousness or who has ingested a corrosive substance or hydrocarbon with high aspiration potential."[10]


  1. ^ a b Gardner, H. G.; American Academy Of Pediatrics Committee On Injury, Violence (2007), Office-Based Counseling for Unintentional Injury Prevention, Pediatrics 119 (1): 202–6, doi:10.1542/peds.2006-2899, PMID 17200289 
  2. ^ American Academy Of Pediatrics Committee On Injury, Violence (2003), Poison Treatment in the Home, Pediatrics 112 (5): 1182–5, doi:10.1542/peds.112.5.1182, PMID 14595067 
  3. ^ American Academy of Clinical Toxicology; European Association of Poisons Centres and Clinical Toxicologists (2004), Position Paper: Ipecac Syrup, Clinical Toxicology 42 (2): 133–43, doi:10.1081/CLT-120037421, PMID 15214617 
  4. ^ Bateman, D N (1999), Gastric decontamination—a view for the millennium, Emergency Medicine Journal 16 (2): 84–6, doi:10.1136/emj.16.2.84, PMC 1343284, PMID 10191436 
  5. ^ a b Manoguerra, Anthony; Cobaugh, Daniel; Panel, Guidelines for the Management of Poisoning Consensus Panel (2005), Guideline on the Use of Ipecac Syrup in the Out-of-Hospital Management of Ingested Poisons, Clinical Toxicology 43 (1): 1–10, doi:10.1081/CLT-200046735, PMID 15732439 
  6. ^ Silber, Tomas J. (2005), Ipecac syrup abuse, morbidity, and mortality: Isn't it time to repeal its over-the-counter status?, Journal of Adolescent Health 37 (3): 256–60, doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2004.08.022, PMID 16109351 
  7. ^ Schmidt R (24 October 2010), Karen Carpenter's tragic story, The Guardian 
  8. ^ Shannon, M. (2003), The Demise of Ipecac, Pediatrics 112 (5): 1180–1, doi:10.1542/peds.112.5.1180, PMID 14595066 
  9. ^ "Ipecac Syrup". American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Retrieved 12 October 2010. 
  10. ^ Krenzelok, EP; McGuigan, M; Lheur, P (1997), Position Statement: Ipecac Syrup, Clinical Toxicology 35 (7): 699–709, doi:10.3109/15563659709162567, PMID 9482425 

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