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Are Childhood Behavioral Problems Linked to Acetaminophen Exposure in Utero? — Physician’s First Watch

Medical News |
February 25, 2014

Are Childhood Behavioral Problems Linked to Acetaminophen Exposure in Utero?

By Joe Elia

Acetaminophen exposure during gestation seems associated with later ADHD-like effects, a JAMA Pediatrics study finds, but commentators say it's too soon to judge.

Researchers used Danish health databases to follow outcomes in some 65,000 children, half of whose mothers used acetaminophen during pregnancy. Parental reports of ADHD-like behavior at age 7, diagnoses of hyperkinetic disorder, or prescriptions for ADHD medications were the outcomes of interest.

Acetaminophen use during pregnancy was associated with increased risks, relative to no exposure. Even higher risks were seen for use in more than one trimester, especially the second and third. The drug's use for more than 19 weeks increased the risk for hyperkinetic diagnosis by over 80%.

The authors point to acetaminophen's ability to disrupt endocrine function, perhaps leading to effects on neurodevelopment.

Editorialists caution that "this study alone should not change practice."

Reader Comments (3)

MICHAEL VESSELAGO Physician, Family Medicine/General Practice

Well, it certainly is an interesting process as we move forward into a more mature phase of scientific investigation and discover that there are unintended and unforeseen consequences to various treatments, e.g. antibiotics, and now, perhaps acetaminophen, when we take a second and third look at their effects.
Perhaps it is a reminder that science, including medical science, is a process of asking questions, formulating experiments to answer those questions, and then changing our assessment of what we do and do not know.

Samuel Miles, MD Physician, Psychiatry

Acetaminophen is often used in febrile illnesses. There is data to show disrupted brain development in fetuses whose mothers had influenza during the second trimester. Did the authors examine the potential effect of this confounding variable?

Everett Barnes M.D. Physician, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Ob Hospitalist

It now appears that our only option for treatment of pain is intercessory prayer.

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