There’s been a study in the US about Tylenol, paracetamol to you and me, linking it to causing harm to an unborn child. Paracetamol is thought of as safe by most pregnant women, and I don’t want to spread alarm, but the study is worth taking notice of.
It’s from world-class researchers and it’s been published in one of our most prestigious medical journals.
Prior research suggests a potential link between mothers who take paracetamol during pregnancy and an increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in their children, but these studies relied on women self-reporting their use of the drug, somewhat weakening the research.
For the new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, the team looked at almost 1,000 mother-infant pairs from the Boston Birth Cohort study between 1998 and 2018, testing for paracetamol biomarkers in the mother’s umbilical cord blood.
They also looked at the children who were diagnosed with ADHD, ASD, both or none at all.
Results showed a third of the children were developing normally, intellectually and cognitively.
One in four had ADHD, about one in seven had ASD, one in 25 had both, and three in 10 had other developmental disabilities.
For comparison about one in 59 US children has ASD. Children with ADHD have difficulty paying attention, sitting still and exerting self-control.
ASD is a developmental disorder in which sufferers have a hard time making eye contact, communicating and display repetitive behaviour.
Usually diagnosed by age two, it encompasses several conditions – including autism, Asperger syndrome and other disorders with language and motor skill delays. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.
While this study suggests children were almost twice as likely to have some type of developmental disability if their mother had taken paracetamol, there’s no way of knowing for how long a foetus was exposed to the drug.
However, more than 65% of women in the US and 50% in Europe use paracetamol during pregnancy to treat pain or fever.
Here’s some reassuring words from Dr Andrew Shennan, a professor of obstetrics at King’s College London: “Paracetamol is a recommended drug for use in pregnancy and will be commonly used.
“This type of uncontrolled study does not imply paracetamol use causes autism, as the reason for taking paracetamol may be the issue rather than the drug itself, and a mechanism for it to cause harm is not clear.”
Nonetheless, the golden rule not to take any medication in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy holds true.