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Tylenol-Acetaminophen Taken During Pregnancy may Increase Risks for ADHD in Children

Aug 16, 2016

A new study suggests that pregnant women who take acetaminophen, which is sold under the brand, Tylenol, may be at increased risks for their unborn children developing behavioral problems that include attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Tylenol/acetaminophen has been touted as generally considered safe to be taken during pregnancy. In fact, some two-thirds of women take Tylenol/acetaminophen during pregnancy, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, HealthDay reported.

When pregnant women in Britain used Tylenol/acetaminophen, the risk of behavioral problems increased in their children by the time their children were seven years of age, said lead researcher Evie Stergiakouli, who is also a lecturer in genetic epidemiology at the University of Bristol. The study could not prove cause-and-effect, and Stergiakouli said that women should still take the drug, if needed, wrote HealthDay.

The study revealed that pregnant women taking Tylenol/acetaminophen during the time when they were 18 and 32 weeks pregnant was tied to a 42 percent increased risk of behavior problems in children and a 31 percent increased risk of hyperactivity, according to HealthDay. The research also revealed a 29 percent increased risk of emotional problems and a 46 percent increased risk of overall behavioral difficulties in children of women who used Tylenol/acetaminophen at 32 weeks of pregnancy.

No similar association appeared in mothers who used Tylenol/acetaminophen following delivery and an association did not occur in children’s whose fathers used Tylenol/acetaminophen, the findings showed. "Only acetaminophen use during pregnancy has the potential to cause behavioral problems in the offspring," Stergiakouli said, according to HealthDay.

These findings are similar to two other large-scale studies that also suggested Tylenol/acetaminophen may have an adverse effect on a baby's brain in utero, said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, wrote HealthDay.

For the long-term study, Stergiakouli and her colleagues reviewed data for nearly 8,000 mothers who enrolled in the study between 1991 and 1992, along with their children and partners, according HealthDay. Questionnaires assessed the women's Tylenol/acetaminophen use at 18 and 32 weeks during their pregnancies, and again when their children were five years old. A follow-up questionnaire assessed behavioral problems in children as reported by their mothers when the children were seven years of age, HealthDay reported.

Some 53 percent of the mothers reported using Tylenol/acetaminophen at 18 weeks of pregnancy; 42 percent said they used the pain reliever at 32 weeks, according to the findings. About five percent of the children developed behavioral problems, which is similar to National Health Service estimates that two to five percent of school-aged British children are diagnosed with ADHD. In the United States 11 percent of school aged children are diagnosed with the disorder. The findings were published online August 15 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers speculated that Tylenol/acetaminophen may have an affect on fetal brain development by altering a mother's hormone levels, or crossing the placenta and directly affecting the baby in utero. The authors of the study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicated that further studies are needed to determine a causal explanation.

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