Acetaminophen Linked to Kids’ Behavior Problems

By Pat Anson, Editor

Another study has linked acetaminophen to attention deficit and other behavioral problems in children whose mothers used the over-the-counter pain reliever while pregnant.

"Children exposed to acetaminophen use prenatally are at increased risk of multiple behavioral difficulties,” said lead author Evie Stergiakouli, PhD, of the University of Bristol. “Given the widespread use of acetaminophen among pregnant women, this can have important implications on public health advice.”

The study, published in JAMA Pediatricsinvolved nearly 7,800 mothers in the UK who used acetaminophen in 1991 and 1992.

Prenatal use of acetaminophen in the second and third trimesters was associated with a higher risk of behavior problems and hyperactivity in children. Use of acetaminophen at 32 weeks of pregnancy was also associated with a higher risk for emotional problems.

“We found stronger association between maternal acetaminophen use and multiple behavioral and emotional problem domains during the third trimester than during the second trimester, in agreement with previous studies that have included multiple measurement times during pregnancy," said Stergiakouli

"Given that there is active brain development and growth during the third trimester, this finding could indicate that there are developmental periods when the brain is more sensitive to acetaminophen exposure.” 

Acetaminophen (paracetamol) is one of the most widely used pain relievers in the world. It is the active ingredient in Tylenol, Excedrin, and hundreds of other pain medications. Researchers say over half the pregnant women in the United States and European Union use the drug.

"The risk of not treating fever or pain during pregnancy should be carefully weighed against any potential harm of acetaminophen to the offspring," said Stergiakouli

A recent study of over 2,600 Spanish women linked acetaminophen to autism and attention deficit problems in their children. Studies in Denmark and New Zealand have also linked acetaminophen with a higher risk of hyperkinetic disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Over 50 million people in the U.S. use acetaminophen each week to treat pain and fever. The pain reliever has long been associated with liver injury and allergic reactions such as skin rash.