Babies Exposed To Acetaminophen In The Womb Have An Increased Risk of Autism and ADHD, Study Finds

A study published in JAMA Psychiatry has found a link between exposure to acetaminophen during pregnancy and higher rates of autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

This isn’t the first time autism and acetaminophen (Tylenol) have been linked. Taking acetaminophen during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of autism in at least two previous studies.

Acetaminophen is typically used to reduce fever, ease joint or muscle pain, and banish headaches. Two out of three American women take acetaminophen during pregnancy, as it’s common to deal with headaches and pain during it. However, pregnant women have limited options to ease their pain.

Acetaminophen is the most common pain reliever doctors allow for pregnant women, as other pain relievers like NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are not safe during pregnancy. NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), aspirin, and celecoxib.

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This study was published in JAMA Psychiatry and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ).

A team of researchers led by Xiaobing Wang, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed data from the Boston Birth Cohort, which is a long-term study of the different factors early in life that can have an effect on pregnancy, infancy, and child health outcomes. Using the umbilical cord blood from 996 babies, researchers measured the amount of acetaminophen and two of its byproducts. They analyzed the amounts in three tiers, going from lowest to highest.

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The children in the middle third of the amount of acetaminophen usage had 2.14 times the risk of autism and 2.26 times the risk for ADHD compared to those in the first third. The highest third had 3.62 times the risk of autism and 2.86 times the risk of ADHD.

When the babies in the study reached just over 8 and a half years old, 6.6% had been diagnosed with autism only, 25.8% had been diagnosed with ADHD only, and 4.2% were diagnosed with both ADHD and ASD.

“Prenatal acetaminophen use is consistently associated with an increased risk of developmental disabilities, including ADHD and possibly [autism],” Dr. Wang concluded.

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While the study found that fetal exposure to acetaminophen significantly increased a child’s risk for ADHD and ASD, more research is still needed before doctors would recommend women abstain from Tylenol during pregnancy.

For now, the FDA is telling pregnant women to use caution.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration urges careful consideration before using any pain-relieving medication during pregnancy,“ a media release from NIH stated.

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