ADHD and Autism symptoms linked to common medication

Prenatal exposure to this common over the counter pain medication may increase the chances of developing ADHD and Autism symptoms in children.

Once again, the prenatal use of paracetamol has been linked to symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum conditions (ASC) in children.

The study, published  today in the European Journal of Epidemiology, analysed data from 73,881 children who participated in different independent studies across England, Denmark, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, and Greece. The data collected included the prenatal or postnatal use of paracetamol by pregnant women and information about ADHD and ASC symptoms in their children.

Based on their analyses, children whom mothers used paracetamol during pregnancy were 19% more likely to have ADHD symptoms and 21% more likely to have ASC symptoms, compared to children not exposed to paracetamol. The study also found that boys and girls were affected in the same way.

No association was found for the use of paracetamol after pregnancy, suggesting that the use of this medication in children is not linked to ADHD and ASC.

The new findings support previous studies  linking the use of this common pain reliever during pregnancy with poor cognitive performance, increased behavioural problems, and ASC/ADHD symptoms in children.

Causation vs correlation
The results of this new study, however, only establish a correlation between the use of paracetamol during pregnancy and ADHD/ASC symptoms in children. There is no plausible mechanisms proposed in this study that may explain the observed correlation.

The recommendations steaming from this study is not to avoid the use or paracetamol during pregnancy, but to be mindful. “Considering all the evidence on the use of paracetamol and neurological development, we agree with previous recommendations indicating that while paracetamol should not be suppressed in pregnant women or children, it should be used only when necessary,” said Dr Jordi Sunyer, co-author of the study and a researcher from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, in a press release.

In Australia, the use of paracetamol during pregnancy and in children is considered safe, and more than half of pregnant women in developed counties use paracetamol as analgesic or antipyretic. The new findings add to the discussion about the potential risks of using this medication during pregnancy, urging at the need of more research to find a conclusive answer.