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What does the research say about acetaminophen?
The study, by researchers at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, isn't conclusive. The authors and other experts agree that more extensive research is required to figure out if acetaminophen during pregnancy actually causes an increased risk of autism and ADHD in children, or if there's another reason behind the association.
Nevertheless, the findings echo results from previous studies showing a connection between acetaminophen in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental disorders in children.
For the most recent study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers examined acetaminophen levels in the umbilical cords and blood of almost 1,000 mom-and-child pairs shortly after birth. All the samples showed that the moms had taken some acetaminophen during pregnancy, but some moms and babies had higher levels of the drug in their systems than others. The study authors divided the children into three groups, from low to high acetaminophen exposure.
Researchers followed up with the children when they were around 10 years old. About a quarter had ADHD, almost 7 percent had ASD, and 4 percent had both.
Here's the most worrying finding: Children with the highest exposure to acetaminophen during pregnancy were around three times more likely than those with the lowest exposure to have ADHD or ASD.
But the study isn't perfect. Here are some of the limitations:
- Acetaminophen exposure was only measured once, at birth. It's not clear exactly how much of the drug the women in the study might have taken at different points in their pregnancies.
- The study didn't attempt to measure other types of drugs women might have taken that could have affected their babies. And it didn't take into account other factors that could influence ADHD and ASD risk such as genetics, family history, and environmental pollution.
- All the women had taken some acetaminophen, so there was no group of non-exposed babies to compare ADHD and ASD rates with.
- Babies included in the study were from high-risk populations who are more likely to be born prematurely or have low birth weight, and therefore developmental disabilities, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
What does the FDA say about acetaminophen?
Guidelines for use of the drug haven't changed as a result of the new study. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises pregnant women to consult with a doctor before taking acetaminophen.
Acetaminophen remains the only drug generally considered safe for treating pain relief and fever during pregnancy, and an estimated 65 percent of pregnant women in the United States take it at some point. Not treating severe and persistent pain during pregnancy can lead to problems such as depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure, the FDA has noted.
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