Paracetamol use during pregnancy increases child's autism, ADHD risk

25 April 2018 - 14:46 By AFP Relaxnews
New research has found more evidence to suggest that taking paracetamol during pregnancy could potentially cause harm to a woman's unborn child.
New research has found more evidence to suggest that taking paracetamol during pregnancy could potentially cause harm to a woman's unborn child.
Image: 123RF / Ondrooo

New research has found more evidence to suggest that taking paracetamol during pregnancy could potentially cause harm to a woman's unborn child, finding that prolonged use may increase the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and ADHD.

Carried out by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the new meta-analysis is the most comprehensive study yet to look at the possible association between prolonged use of paracetamol (acetaminophen) during pregnancy and the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The analysis looked at data from 132,738 mother and child pairs who were followed for between 3 to 11 years, wth the results showing that there was an association between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and an increased risk for ADHD, ASD and hyperactivity symptoms.

Prolonged exposure was linked to a 30% increased risk for ADHD (compared to those who did not take acetaminophen during pregnancy) and a 20% increased risk for ASD.

The researchers described the findings as "concerning," however they added that the results should be interpreted with caution. Some of the studies included in the analysis had significant limitations, and the researchers noted that they do not want to cause unnecessary anxiety.

They added that as it is important to control pain and fever during pregnancy, as this can also have a negative effect on the developing fetus, acetaminophen should be used for short periods of time to treat any problems. 

If pain and fever continue, women should consult their physician about further treatment.

Acetaminophen is one of the most common medications used to treat pain and fever during pregnancy and is considered safe in humans. 

However, evidence is growing that it could be linked to certain problems, with the researchers pointing out that previous studies have shown that long-term low doses of acetaminophen may affect the development of the fetal nervous system. A study published earlier this month also found that taking paracetamol and ibuprofen during pregnancy could affect the fertility of unborn children later in life.

Lead author Dr. Ilan Matok says, "Our findings suggest an association between prolonged acetaminophen use and an increase in the risk of autism and ADHD. However, the observed increase in risk was small, and the existing studies have significant limitations. While unnecessary use of any medication should be avoided in pregnancy, we believe our findings should not alter current practice and women should not avoid use of short term acetaminophen when clinically needed."

The results can be found published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology.


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