May 26, 2022

Prenatal exposure to paracetamol associated with increased risk of autism and ADHD

Children who are exposed to paracetamol before birth are more likely to develop symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (AUC) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), results published in the European Journal of Epidemiology (May 28, 2021) suggested[1].

In a collaborative study of six birth / child cohorts based on the European population, including a British cohort, comprising 73,881 mother-child pairs, prenatal and postnatal exposure to paracetamol was assessed using questionnaires or maternal interviews. .

Researchers found that children who were exposed to paracetamol prenatally were 19% and 21% more likely to have borderline or clinical AUC subsequently (odds ratio [OR] = 1.19, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.07-1.33) and ADHD symptoms (OR 1.21, 95% CI 1.07-1.36), respectively, compared to unexposed children. The odds were similar for boys and girls, although the associations were found to be slightly stronger for boys.

In contrast, postnatal exposure to paracetamol was not associated with symptoms of ASC or ADHD.

According to the study, paracetamol is used by 46 to 56% of pregnant women in developed countries. Although considered the safest pain reliever for pregnant women and children, there is “growing evidence” linking prenatal exposure to poorer cognitive performance, behavioral problems, AUC. and ADHD.

“Our results corroborate the previous conclusions and correct some of the weaknesses of the previous meta-analyzes”, concluded the authors.

“In view of all the evidence on [paracetamol] use and neurodevelopment, we agree with previous recommendations indicating that although [paracetamol] should not be removed in pregnant women or children, it should only be used when necessary.

  1. 1

    Alemany S, Avella-García C, Liew Z, et al. Prenatal and postnatal acetaminophen exposure in relation to the autism spectrum and symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity in childhood: meta-analysis in six European population cohorts. Eur J Epidemiol First published online: May 28, 2021. doi:10.1007 / s10654-021-00754-4