Exposure to paracetamol in pregnancy is associated with symptoms of ADHD and autism in childhood

Researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a center promoted by the “la Caixa” Foundation, have found a relationship between the symptoms of Attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) detected in boys and girls from six European cohorts and the paracetamol (acetaminophen) that their mothers took in the pregnancy.

The study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, argues that between 14 and 56% of mothers indicated that they had taken this drug during the gestation. Furthermore, the results reveal that boys and girls who had been exposed to paracetamol before birth were more likely to develop symptoms of ASD and ADHD later than those not exposed (19% and 21% more, respectively).

Paracetamol is considered the safest analgesic and antipyretic in pregnancy and childhood. However, some articles have begun to link their prenatal exposure with poorer cognitive performance, more behavioral problems, ASD and ADHD

“Our data is consistent with what previous work indicated. Likewise, we see that prenatal exposure to this drug affects boys and girls in a similar way, since we practically do not observe differences ”, he explains. Silvia Alemany, first author of the study.

“Taking into account all the evidence on the use of paracetamol and neurological development, we agree with the recommendations that indicate that, although the drug should not be withdrawn in pregnant women or in childhood, it should be used only when necessary” , stands out for its part Jordi Sunyer, last author of the study.

Improve the studies carried out so far

It is estimated that between 46 and 56% of pregnant women in developed countries resort to paracetamol at some point in their pregnancy, which is considered the analgesic Y antipyretic safer in that period and in childhood. However, some articles have begun to link their prenatal exposure to poorer cognitive performance, more behavioral problems, ASD, and ADHD symptoms.

These are studies criticized for their heterogeneity, so that on this occasion “an effort has been made to harmonize the way in which ADHD and ASD symptoms have been assessed or defined, as well as what it means to be exposed to the drug,” he points out. Alemany.

We agree with the recommendations that, although paracetamol should not be withdrawn in pregnant women or in childhood, it should be used only when necessary.

Jordi Sunyer, lead author

“The sample is large and jointly analyzes cohorts from different European countries (United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece and Spain). In all the guidelines studied, the criterion has been the same, so that we have reduced the disparity of criteria from which previous studies suffered ”, he adds.

This research also analyzed the postnatal infant exposure to paracetamol, without in this case an association between paracetamol taken in childhood and the symptoms of ASD was observed. Finally, the scientific team recommends continuing with the analysis, given the diversity of exposure in the various cohorts studied, which ranged between 6 and 92.8%.


Alemany S, Sunyer J et al .: Prenatal and postnatal exposure to acetaminophen in relation to autism spectrum and attention-deficit and hyperactivity symptoms in childhood: Meta-analysis in six European population-based cohorts. European Journal of Epidemiology

Rights: Creative Commons.

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