Paracetamol in pregnancy linked to ADHD – research

Using paracetamol, one of the mainstays of over-the-counter pain relief, during pregnancy has been linked to the development of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children, according to new research.

Credit: Flickr / leach84
Credit: Flickr / leach84

The University of Auckland study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, found that self-reported paracetamol use by pregnant women was linked to development of ADHD in children by age 11. The findings come from the Auckland Birthweight Collaborative (ABC) Study which followed almost 900 children of European ethnicity born in the Auckland region in 1995-96.

Around half the mothers of children enrolled in the study reported taking paracetamol at some point in their pregnancy, and this was linked to an increase in children scoring highly on questionnaires measuring emotional and behavioural difficulties, even after other factors had been taken into account. The research confirms earlier Danish research that found similar outcomes.

The authors noted that the nature of the study did not allow them to record the exact dosages of paracetamol taken by mothers, and highlighted the need for further studies to examine the link.

“More research is needed to provide a more precise assessment of the risk and consequences of taking this pain killer during pregnancy,” said lead author Dr. John Thompson in a media release.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, independent researcher Prof. Wayne Gillett, from the Dunedin School of Medicine, cautioned against stopping paracetamol use during pregnancy on the basis of limited studies at this stage.

“As a general rule paracetamol is still a very safe treatment … If it wasn’t available then gosh, only more dangerous drugs would be used or none at all which of course would lead to misery in women.”

The research has received widespread national media attention. Examples include:

New Zealand Herald: Paracetamol link to ADHD: study
NZ Doctor: Popular pain killer linked to behavioural disorders
Otago Daily Times: Paracetamol link to ADHD – study
MSN Health Hub News: Paracetamol increases ADHD risk
TVNZ News: Common painkiller during prenancy may increase risk of ADHD
3 News: Paracetamol increases risk of ADHD
Newstalk ZB: Concerns over paracetamol use in pregnancy
Radio New Zealand: Painkiller linked to behaviour problems