Women who take paracetamol while pregnant are more likely to give birth to children who have autism or ADHD, according to a major international study.
Health data on more than 70,000 children in six European countries including the UK was analysed by a team from the University of Barcelona.
Fifty-six per cent of the mothers who had children on the autism spectrum or with ADHD took paracetamol while pregnant, the researchers discovered.
Paracetamol is the most common drug taken by pregnant women for pain relief, with about 65 per cent saying they used it during their pregnancy.
This study didn’t explore the exact cause, but previous studies have shown the drug can enter the body of the baby and release toxins that have been linked to poorer cognitive performance and behaviour problems in children.
The researchers say that mums-to-be shouldn’t stop taking the drug if they are in pain, but that it should only be used ‘when necessary’ to minimise risk.
Prof Jordi Sunyer, study co-author, told MailOnline: ‘Paracetamol is the safest anti-inflammatory medication for prenatal life. But, even paracetamol has shown side effects. So, just get it if required.’
Women who take paracetamol while pregnant are more likely to give birth to children who have autism or ADHD, according to a major international study
WHAT IS ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural condition defined by inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
It affects around five per cent of children in the US. Some 3.6 per cent of boys and 0.85 per cent of girls suffer in the UK.
Symptoms typically appear at an early age and become more noticeable as a child grows. These can also include:
- Constant fidgeting
- Poor concentration
- Excessive movement or talking
- Acting without thinking
- Little or no sense of danger
- Careless mistakes
- Difficulty organising tasks
- Inability to listen or carry out instructions
Source: NHS Choices
This new study found children whose mums took the pain relief were 19 per cent more likely to be autistic and 21 per cent more likely to develop ADHD symptoms.
The study, which also included data sourced from Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece and Spain, backs findings from previous research.
Earlier studies have shown that paracetamol can cross the placental barrier and can remain in an infant’s circulation for a long duration.
Other studies have revealed that remaining in the circulation of the infant is linked to poorer cognitive performance and behavioural problems when they are older.
In adults with normal liver function, around five per cent of paracetamol is processed into a highly toxic metabolite that in extremes could cause liver damage.
But due to the foetus’ limited ability to process the toxin, it remains for a longer duration resulting in increased in utero exposure.
Dr Sílvia Alemany, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Barcelona, said: ‘We also found that prenatal exposure to paracetamol affects boys and girls in a similar way, as we observed practically no differences.’
Dr Sunyer said that considering all the evidence linking paracetamol to neurological disorders, the drug shouldn’t be stopped in pregnancy, but should only give given ‘when necessary.’
At some point during pregnancy, an estimated 46-56 per cent of pregnant women in developed countries use paracetamol, which is considered the safest analgesic for pregnant women and children.
However, mounting evidence has linked prenatal paracetamol exposure to poorer cognitive performance, more behavioural problems, and ASC and ADHD symptoms.
Those previous studies have been criticised for the the fact they don’t include people from a broad enough range of backgrounds and locations.
That is why the new study included extensive information from multiple longitudinal studies carried out on pregnant women throughout Europe.
Health data on more than 70,000 children in six European countries including the UK was analysed by a team from the University of Barcelona
“The sample is large,” said Alemany, adding ‘we also used the same criteria for all of the cohorts, thereby reducing the heterogeneity of criteria that has hampered previous studies.’
A study in 2007 found that 84 per cent of children had been given paracetamol by the age of six months.
The study also looked at the use of paracetamol during childhood and found no increased risk of autism and ADHD symptoms.
Nevertheless, the research team concluded that further studies are needed.
The study was published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.
THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with autism have trouble with social, emotional and communication skills that usually develop before the age of three and last throughout a person’s life.
Specific signs of autism include:
- Reactions to smell, taste, look, feel or sound are unusual
- Difficulty adapting to changes in routine
- Unable to repeat or echo what is said to them
- Difficulty expressing desires using words or motions
- Unable to discuss their own feelings or other people’s
- Difficulty with acts of affection like hugging
- Prefer to be alone and avoid eye contact
- Difficulty relating to other people
- Unable to point at objects or look at objects when others point to them