Since the 1950’s, acetaminophen has been one of the most commonly used pain relievers by women during pregnancy. The drug, most commonly marketed as Tylenol, has long been viewed as a safe and effective way to help pregnant women cope with the pain and discomfort of pregnancy.
A new study conducted by UCLA and the University of Aarhus in Denmark casts doubt on whether acetaminophen truly is a safe pain reliever for pregnant women. The study found that taking acetaminophen during pregnancy is linked to a higher risk of having children with ADHD and hyperkinetic disorder – a severe form of ADHD.
The study looked at 64,322 women and children who participated in a Danish cohort from 1996-2002. Acetaminophen use was tracked via multiple phone interviews and surveys throughout the women’s pregnancies. Then, researchers followed up with the women when their children were seven years old. The study found that children whose mothers used acetaminophen during pregnancy were at a 13 to 37 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with ADHD, being prescribed ADHD medication, or being diagnosed with hyperkinetic disorder.
The longer a woman took acetaminophen during pregnancy increased her child’s risk of an ADHD diagnosis. Children born to mothers who used acetaminophen for over 20 weeks of their pregnancies were at a 50 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with hyperkinetic disorder.
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“We know there has been a rapid increase in childhood neurodevelopmental disorders, including ADHD, over the past decades, and it's likely that the rise is not solely attributable to better diagnoses or parental awareness,” senior researcher Dr. Beate Ritz said. “It's likely there are environmental components as well.”
Ritz added that studies tracking acetaminophen's side effects in animals confirm the drug is a hormone disruptor.
"It's known from animal data that acetaminophen is a hormone disruptor, and abnormal hormonal exposures in pregnancy may influence fetal brain development," Ritz said.
Fellow researcher Dr. Jorn Olson said the study’s findings signal a need for more research on the topic.
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"We need further research to verify these findings, but if these results reflect causal associations, then acetaminophen should no longer be considered a 'safe' drug for use in pregnancy,” Olson said.
Source: UCLA Newsroom