Study finds long-term use of acetaminophen during pregnancy may increase a child’s risk of ADHD

Life begins at conception, but is molded in gestation. Pregnancy is the most important stage of a human being’s development, especially in the early stages when the central nervous system (including the brain) is formed. Through science, we discovered that genes from both contributors, the mother and father, are passed down and inherited by the offspring. Unfortunately, a fetus’ development will also be affected by parents’ risk behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and overusing analgesics.

A study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the University of Oslo supports previous studies that acetaminophen, otherwise known as paracetamol, may contribute to the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

What is acetaminophen?

Acetaminophen, commonly known as paracetamol, is a type of analgesic medication that treats conditions such as headaches, muscle aches, arthritis, backaches, toothaches, colds, and fevers. Paracetamol comes in tablets, capsules, suppositories, soluble powders, and liquids. It is harmless at low doses, but can cause acute liver injury and death from acute liver failure when it is taken in excess. Some side effects of acetaminophen overdose include hives, breathing difficulties, and swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat. Long-term use of paracetamol may cause tiredness, breathlessness, cyanosis, anemia, nausea, stomach pain, dark urine, clay-colored stools, jaundice, and liver and kidney damage. Some common over-the-counter brand names that contain acetaminophen include Midol, Panadol, Alka-Seltzer Plus, Robitussin, Sinutab, TYLENOL, Vicks, Feverall, Dayquil, and Excedrin.

Acetaminophen and ADHD

According to the study led by Eivind Ystrom, using paracetamol for 29 days or more during pregnancy may double the risk of a child being diagnosed with ADHD. The study involved 112,973 children from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa), 2,246 of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD. From facts stated in the report, short-term use of paracetamol is harmless to fetal development, while children exposed to paracetamol for more than 29 days in utero are twice more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

The study, entitled “Prenatal Exposure to Acetaminophen and Risk of ADHD,” found that half of the pregnant women included in the study used paracetamol one to seven days during pregnancy in order to address severe pains such as migraines or fever.

The study found an association between an impulsive personality and paracetamol use in pregnancy. Individuals who are impulsive may take paracetamol for mild pains, usually without a doctor’s prescription. Fathers who have a history of impulsive paracetamol use before pregnancy are also considered a factor in determining the outcome of the study. Impulsivity is a known symptom of individuals with ADHD — parents who show impulsivity may have the genes contributing to the development of the condition. That being said, ADHD cannot be blamed entirely on paracetamols, since it may also be inherited. The study states that while the exact causes of ADHD are largely unknown, long-term paracetamol use by both parents may increase children’s risk of developing ADHD. Still, researchers emphasize that ADHD may have other causes aside from those mentioned.

Even if researchers state that paracetamol, in low doses, is relatively safe for pregnant women, all kinds of medication should be avoided, especially during the first trimester. If migraines or fevers are a common occurrence, consider avoiding its causes instead of taking medications when it sets in. Keeping a healthy body may help reduce the necessity for medications during pregnancy. Other natural methods of pain relief, such as increased water consumption, should also be taken into consideration, instead of opting for chemical formulations that may be teratogenic in nature.

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