Moms-to-be looking for relief from the aches and pains of pregnancy might want to reconsider before reaching for a bottle of Tylenol.
According to a new study, prenatal exposure to acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, as well as other over-the-counter and prescription medications, has been tied to ADHD and hyperactivity in children.
As CNN reports, the study — published in JAMA Pediatrics — looked at data from 14,500 families. The researchers considered acetaminophen use during pregnancy along with other factors that could contribute to behavioral or emotional issues, such as alcohol use, smoking, or socioeconomic factors.
The study concluded that children exposed to acetaminophen at eighteen weeks in utero are more likely to be hyperactive or develop conduct problems. Children exposed to the drug at thirty-two weeks have a higher chance of developing emotional symptoms as well as hyperactivity and conduct problems.
No direct causal link has been found between acetaminophen and ADHD, and scientists say more research is needed.
However, recent studies linking acetaminophen use during pregnancy to ADHD prompted the Food & Drug Administration to re-evaluate its safety. Based on “potential limitations” in those studies the agency chose not to change its recommendations.
Still, the Centers for Disease Control, along with the FDA and the authors of the study, believe that acetaminophen should no longer be considered completely safe to take during pregnancy. Instead, women are advised to talk to a doctor, weigh the risks, and only take medication when necessary.
While the causes of behavioral disorders like ADHD are complex, at least one researcher unaffiliated with the study believes it’s possible that Tylenol could be a factor.
“This is actually the fourth major study to find acetaminophen use during pregnancy associated with neuro-development of the child,” Professor Michele Marcus of Emory University told CNN. She added that her own research examines the effect of the long-term effect of pollutants and that, “The evidence is unmistakable that exposures that do no harm to adults can be harmful to the developing fetus and child.”
For now, the results shouldn’t prevent pregnant women from using the drug when needed. Dr. Hal C. Lawrence, CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told CNN:
“The takeaways here are that physicians should not change clinical practice until definitive prospective research is done and, most importantly, patients should not be frightened away from the many benefits of acetaminophen.”