Taking a common over-the-counter pain pill during pregnancy may increase a child’s risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, a new Danish study found.
Doctors said acetaminophen — the active ingredient in Tylenol — could be the culprit.
The findings, published today in JAMA Pediatrics, may cause women and their doctors to question the pain pill of choice during pregnancy.
Pregnant women should not skip pain pills with acetaminophen if they need it — especially since some of the symptoms that the pain pill is used to treat can themselves lead to problems in newborns, obstetricians and child psychiatry experts told ABC News .
In the study, researchers looked at 64,000 expecting mothers. Over a six-year period, more than half of these mothers-to-be took acetaminophen. After delivery, the investigators followed the newborns through childhood, screening them for ADHD and other behavioral problems.
They found that children of women who had taken acetaminophen were 13 percent more likely to have ADHD-like behaviors by age 7, including issues with attention span and temper. Those same children had a 30 percent greater chance of requiring the use of an ADHD medication. Additionally, the further into pregnancy and the longer the duration for which the woman took acetaminophen, the greater the risk.
“It did surprise us to see these effects, because we were hoping it’s a safe medication,” says Dr. Beate Ritz, one of the primary authors of this study. She and her colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles were responsible for interpreting the large amount of data that the Danish researchers collected.
“This might be a safe drug during many life periods, and there may be indications,” Ritz said. “But pregnancy is a special period, and we need to be especially careful about what we take during this time.”
Dr. David Rosenberg, chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University, agreed.
“There has been suspicion that [pain relievers] may be associated with behavioral problems including ADHD,” said Rosenberg, who was not involved with the study. “Association is far different from cause and effect.”
To sum it up, expecting moms should take the same precautions they would use for all drugs during pregnancy — weigh the risks and benefits of using the drug, use the lowest dose of the drug for the shortest duration of time that is needed to treat the problem for which it is being used, and discuss this with your doctor.