Taking paracetamol during pregnancy can put children at risk of hyperactivity and attention problems: Study

Paracetamol is widely used to relieve pain during pregnancy and is recommended as the treatment of choice


                            Taking paracetamol during pregnancy can put children at risk of hyperactivity and attention problems: Study

Taking paracetamol during pregnancy could lead to behavioral problems in children, according to researchers. The team, led by the University of Bristol, have found an association between the painkiller intake and hyperactivity and attention problems as well as with other difficult behaviors in young children.

"Our findings add to a series of results concerning evidence of the possible adverse effects of taking paracetamol during pregnancy, such as issues with asthma or behavior in the offspring. It reinforces the advice that women should be cautious when taking medication during pregnancy and to seek medical advice where necessary," says Professor Jean Golding from the University of Bristol, who led the study.

"It is important that our findings are tested in other studies. We were not in a position to show a causal link, rather an association between two outcomes. It would also be useful now to assess whether older children and adults are free of difficult behavioral problems if their mother had taken paracetamol," she added.

Paracetamol is commonly used to relieve pain during pregnancy and is recommended as the treatment of choice by the National Health Service (NHS). "If you're pregnant and feel you need to take painkillers, paracetamol is usually safe to take. But before taking any medicine when you're pregnant, you should get advice from your midwife or GP," says the NHS advisory, which is due for review in June 2021.

In a 2014 study, researchers from the University of California had also found an increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and ADHD-like behavior at seven-years-old if the mothers had taken paracetamol during pregnancy. Further, a 2013 study had found adverse development and behavior of three-year-old children, and increased risk of a diagnosis of ADHD in children of mothers who had taken paracetamol more often than eight days during pregnancy.

For the current study, the research team from the University of Bristol analyzed whether there were any effects of taking paracetamol in mid-pregnancy and the behavior of the offspring between the ages of 6 months and 11 years, with memory and IQ tested up until the age of 17. The findings have been published in the journal Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology.

Paracetamol is commonly used to relieve pain during pregnancy and is recommended as the treatment of choice by the National Health Service (NHS). (Getty Images)

The researchers examined 14,000 children using questionnaire and school information from Bristol's "Children of the 90s" study, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Based at the University of Bristol, this study is a long-term health research project that enrolled over 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. It has been following the health and development of the parents, their children and now their grandchildren in detail ever since. 

According to their findings, when they were seven months pregnant, 43% of mothers said they had taken paracetamol 'sometimes' or more often during the previous three months. Researchers examined the results of the children's memory, IQ, and pre-school development tests, temperament, and behavior measures.

In their analysis, the researchers found a link between taking paracetamol and behavioral issues in children, which include hyperactivity and attention problems, among others, that were not accounted for by the reasons why the medication was taken or social factors. However, says the team, this was no longer the case by the time the children reached the end of primary school. Boys appeared to be more susceptible than girls to the possible behavioral effects of the drug, says the research team.

"In this paper, we have investigated 135 continuous outcomes related to cognition, temperament, and behavior in children born to women who had taken paracetamol at some stage between 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy compared with those who had not. We have shown that paracetamol taken in the period 18‐32 weeks is associated with aspects of child attention and hyperactivity until seven years of age, but there is little sign of adverse associations at later ages, with the exception of their sons who are more likely to demonstrate conduct problems up until nine years of age,” the findings state.

The study adds, “Given the increase in these behaviors, it will be important to assess whether they are accompanied by difficulties in academic achievements, or whether any adverse effects survive puberty."

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