Expectant women endure many aches and pains, and many moms-to-be reach for acetaminophen for relief. In fact, more than half of all pregnant women in the United States and Europe use acetaminophen, which is found in medicines for allergies, colds, flu and sleeplessness. New research, however, suggests exposure to this drug raises the risk of having children with emotional or behavioral problems.
Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol and hundreds of over-the-counter and prescription medicines. British researchers wanted to know more about the effects of the drug during pregnancy, so they began examining data from a major ongoing study in the United Kingdom that is charting the health of 14,500 families.
More than half the mothers reported using acetaminophen at 18 weeks of pregnancy, and less than half reported using it at 32 weeks. After weighing factors such as smoking, alcohol use, socioeconomics and genetics, the team found a woman using acetaminophen at 18 weeks of pregnancy had a higher risk of her child becoming hyperactive or developing conduct problems.
At 32 weeks, acetaminophen use was linked to higher odds of the child having emotional symptoms, conduct problems and hyperactivity symptoms.
The team said the link between use of the drug and behavioral problems may be due to an intrauterine mechanism and they called for more research before drawing any sweeping conclusions.
Given the widespread use of acetaminophen among pregnant women, they said the results could have important public health implications. They also said any potential harm to the offspring needs to be weighed against the risks of not treating fever or pain during pregnancy.