Paracetamol in pregnancy ‘link to autism and ADHD’ not proven


Acetaminophen is one of the very few painkillers considered generally safe to use during pregnancy. A new study, however, suggests it may not be so safe after all, after identifying a link between prenatal exposure to the drug and symptoms of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Women who take paracetamol during pregnancy ‘risk having a child with autism or ADHD’,” the Mail Online reports. But the Spanish study it reports on provides no evidence of a direct link to either condition.

Researchers assessed paracetamol use in more than 2,000 pregnant women, and then performed various developmental and behavioural tests on the children at the ages of one and five.

They found paracetamol use during pregnancy was linked with hyperactivity and impulse symptoms at age five, and autism symptoms in boys.

However, there was no link with full diagnostic criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism symptoms in all children. Nor was there any link with development or intellect.

Importantly, the study cannot prove using paracetamol in pregnancy caused these symptoms.

The causes of both conditions are poorly understood and may involve many hereditary, health and environmental influences, which this study has not been able to account for.

For example, the study did not assess whether the women smoked in pregnancy, and also did not take the child’s secondhand smoke exposure into account.

Smoking has been linked to both conditions – though, as with this study, the link is unproven – so this seems an odd oversight.

The current viewpoint is occasionally using paracetamol as needed, and at recommended doses, is safe during pregnancy. This study alone is unlikely to have provided sufficient evidence to the contrary to change this.