Pregnant women who take acetaminophen – best known as Tylenol – might raise the risk that their child will develop behavioral problems such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study suggests.
Acetaminophen is generally considered safe in pregnancy – so safe, in fact, that at least two-thirds of women turn to it while expecting, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
But when pregnant women in Britain used the pain reliever, it appeared to increase the risk of behavior problems cropping up in their children by the time they turned 7, said lead researcher Evie Stergiakouli, a lecturer in genetic epidemiology at the University of Bristol.
Still, the study couldn’t prove cause-and-effect, and Stergiakouli believes that women should still take the drug if needed.
In the study, taking acetaminophen between 18 and 32 weeks in pregnancy was associated with a 42% increased risk of behavior problems in children and a 31% increased risk of hyperactivity, the researchers found.
No similar association cropped up in mothers who used acetaminophen after delivery, nor did it occur if the father used the over-the-counter drug, the findings showed.
“Only acetaminophen used during pregnancy has the potential to cause behavioral problems in the offspring,” Stergiakouli said.
These findings jibe with two other large-scale studies that have suggested acetaminophen may have an adverse effect on a baby’s brain during pregnancy, said Dr. Andrew Adesman. He is chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
Stergiakouli believes pregnant women may still have good reason to take acetaminophen. “There is a risk of not treating fever or pain during pregnancy, and this should be carefully weighed against any potential harm to the offspring,” she said. “For example, untreated fever during pregnancy can lead to premature labor.”
For the long-term study, Stergiakouli and her colleagues analyzed data for almost 8,000 mothers who enrolled in the study between 1991 and 1992, along with their children and partners.
The findings were published online Aug. 15 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
How about using natural methods to reduce a fever or pain? A tepid bath can reduce a fever with no threat to the unborn child. Omega-3 fatty acids, black current seed oil, sesame seed oil, Turmeric and ginger all are effective in reducing inflammation without any of the side effects associated with Tylenol.
The Bottom Line:
There is enough evidence to recommend against taking Tylenol during pregnancy. Studies rarely if ever prove “cause-and-effect”, there are too many variables. Women should not take acetaminophen during pregnancy. In fact, the rest of us should avoid its use as well. These OTC (over-the-counter drugs) are no safer than the prescription drugs, just more readily available.
August 15, 2016 National Institutes of Health