A recent study in JAMA Pediatrics has correlated pregnant women’s use of the common drug acetaminophen to an increased risk of her child developing ADHD. This research calls into question one of America’s most commonly used medications and can offer further insight into understanding ADHD.
Acetaminophen is commonly used to relieve pain and reduce fever. It therefore has many applications in treating muscle ache, arthritis, colds, and headache. Acetaminophen is commonly sold under the familiar brand name of Tylenol, however it is also the active ingredient in a number of other pain medications.
Generally speaking acetaminophen has been considered a fairly innocuous pain reliever. Patients suffering from alcoholism or liver diseases are not advised to take this medication. In addition the drug does not mix well with alcohol. As with all medications, a small percentage of the population has reported adverse reactions to acetaminophen. However overall, acetaminophen has remained a staple resource in many American medication cabinets.
However a new study from researchers at UCLA reveals that perhaps acetaminophen is more insidious than anyone would have previously expected. In this study more than 6,400 mothers and their children were examined over the course of six years. The results of this study showed that use of acetaminophen during pregnancy was correlated with an increased risk of developing ADHD in children.
While at face value this link may be alarming, it is important to keep perspective. Dr. Beate Ritz from UCLA assures the public that taking a single Tylenol is by no means a guarantee that your child will develop ADHD. In fact, if a pregnant mother is suffering from fever or pain, it is often better to address those short term issues. In particular, acetaminophen is often use by pregnant mothers who catch the flu. Influenza has the potential to be quite dangerous, and contracting influenza while pregnant as been correlated with the development of autism. Therefore taking a few tablets of Tylenol carries less of a risk than allowing a viral infection to run rampant. The key is simply not to rely on extended and unnecessary use of the drug.
It is important to emphasize that this is simply a correlation and not a causational relationship. While acetaminophen could indeed prove to be the underlying cause for an increased risk of ADHD, there is currently no evidence to support this. There could just as easily be some other factor that disposes both mothers to taking painkillers during pregnancy and children to developing ADHD. In addition, scientists are still unclear as to the mechanism behind how acetaminophen could cause ADHD. The best guess so far is that it somehow interrupts the normal hormone balance within the pregnant mother’s body which then causes abnormalities in the child. At this point it is simply too early to say.
To conclude, the jury is still out with regards to acetaminophen. However in the meantime pregnant mothers are tentatively advised to limits their use of acetaminophen to short term pain relief. Acetaminophen may or may not cause an increased risk of ADHD, and at this point all anyone can discern is a correlation.
By Sarah Takushi