Common pain reliever leads to risk of autism, ADHD: study

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An alarming new study of pregnant women and newborns has uncovered a potential link between acetaminophen and some neuro-developmental disorders — namely autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A team of researchers from the University of Barcelona analyzed health data from over 73,000 mother-child pairs throughout Europe. In support of several prior studies indicating similar results, they found that unborn children exposed to acetaminophen, compared to non-exposed fetuses, were 19% more likely to land on the spectrum of autism, and 21% more likely to exhibit symptoms of ADHD in childhood. (Post-natal exposure to the drug in children was not associated with symptoms of autism or ADHD.)

Acetaminophen — or paracetamol, as it’s frequently called elsewhere — is far and away one of the most commonly used analgesics on the market, with 52 million Americans weekly consuming the drug. It is found in more than 600 different medications, both prescription-based and over-the-counter, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

Unborn children exposed to acetaminophen, compared to non-exposed fetuses, were 19% more likely to land on the spectrum of autism.

Between 46% and 56% of pregnant women in developed countries are known to use acetaminophen, which is recommended as the safest analgesic/antipyretic for children and pregnant women, according to the report. But results of the study could spell a shift in how some doctors advise on treating pain and fever during pregnancy.

“Paracetamol is the safest anti-inflammatory medication for prenatal life. But even paracetamol has shown side effects,” said Jordi Sunyer, a co-author of the report now published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

Yet researchers point out that acetaminophen and paracetemol could prevent more dangerous complications associated with fever during pregnancy. “So, just [take] it if required,” Sunyer added in a statement to Daily Mail.

Previous studies have shown that acetaminophen or paracetamol can make its way into the fetus’s body by seeping through the placental barrier, a notably thin wall of cellular tissue that helps to protect the fetal circulatory system. Once there, the drugs are thought to have the potential to disrupt the flow of hormones, leading to impaired development of the fetus.

“Our findings are consistent with previous research,” said lead researcher and author Sílvia Alemany in a separate press statement.

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