Paracetamol abuse in pregnancy increases the risk of the baby suffering from autism and ADHD

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The paracetamol is one of the few drugs that are not contraindicated during pregnancy. It is estimated that between 46% and 56% of pregnant women in developed countries resort to this drug at some point in their pregnancy, considered the safest pain reliever in that period and in childhood. However, in recent years some studies have begun to link prenatal exposure to the drug with poorer cognitive performance, behavior problems, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Now, an epidemiological study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a center promoted by the La Caixa Foundation, supports these results by finding a Direct relation between the intake of acetaminophen -paracetamol- during the months of pregnancy and the appearance before or after the birth of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the spectrum driver in babies.

In the study, published in the journal ‘European Journal of Epidemiology’, 73,881 children from different countries Europeans for whom data were available on prenatal or postnatal exposure who had to this drug. Depending on the cohort, between 14% and 56% of the mothers of these minors reported that they had taken paracetamol while they were pregnant.

The results are conclusive and reveal that minors who had been exposed to paracetamol before birth are 19 percent more likely to subsequently develop symptoms of autism spectrum disorders and 21 percent more likely to suffer from attention deficit disorders than the unexposed.

Accurate results

“Our data is consistent and reaffirms what previous work indicated. We also see that prenatal exposure to paracetamol similarly affects boys and girls, since we practically did not observe differences “, explains Sílvia Alemany, researcher at ISGlobal and first author of the study. The “robustness” of the results responds, according to the expert, to the fact that “unlike previous research, this study, which analyzes six different cohorts, has been carried out by harmonizing all the parameters so that the results are as accurate as possible” .

«Previous studies have been criticized for their heterogeneity, so this time an effort has been made to harmonize the way in which the symptoms of ADHD and ASDas well as what it means to be exposed to paracetamol ”, explains Alemany. “The sample is large,” he continues, “and jointly analyzes cohorts from different European countries (United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece and Spain). In all the cohorts studied, the criteria were the same, so we have reduced the heterogeneity of criteria from which previous studies suffered.

Only when necessary

Speaking to ABC, the researcher clarifies that “the intention of the study is in no way to alarm. We also do not want to give the message that taking paracetamol is not safe during pregnancy, simply that taking it in excess (it has not been determined from which intake increases the risk) is not good because it increases the probability that future babies will suffer from these disorders ».

Jordi Sunyer, ISGlobal researcher and last author of the study, highlights the importance of the work. «Our results address some of the weaknesses of the previous meta-analyzes. Taking into account all the evidence on the use of paracetamol and neurodevelopment, we agree with the recommendations that indicate that, although paracetamol should not be withdrawn in pregnant women or in childhood, it does should be used only when necessary».

The study also analyzed postnatal infantile exposure to the drug, in this case no association was observed between paracetamol taken in childhood and symptoms of ASD. Despite this, the scientific team recommends continuing to investigate, given the heterogeneity of exposure in the various cohorts studied, which ranged between 6% and 92.8%.

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