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Study Finds No Link Between Paracetomol Use During Pregnancy and Autism or ADHD

A pregnant woman holding a pill in one hand and a glass of water in another.
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In the largest epidemiologic study to date of the risk of giving birth to a child with autism, ADHD or intellectual disability following acetaminophen use during pregnancy, researchers found no association. The study is now published in JAMA.

The question of whether it is safe to take the pain-relieving and antipyretic drug paracetamol (sometimes called acetaminophen) during pregnancy flares up from time to time.

Most recently in 2021, a group of researchers, including several Swedish ones, warned in an article in Nature Reviews Endocrinology that paracetamol during pregnancy could increase the risk of autism, ADHD and intellectual disability. 

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Now comes a study that may add to the body of knowledge. Together with colleagues from Drexel University in Philadelphia, USA, researchers from Karolinska Institutet have conducted the largest epidemiological analysis to date of the use of paracetamol during pregnancy and the risk of giving birth to children with autism, ADHD or intellectual disability. 

No difference between siblings

The researchers used registry data for 2.4 million children born in Sweden between 1995 and 2019. They then used the prescription register and reports to midwives during pregnancy to study the nearly 186,000 children whose mothers were treated with paracetamol during pregnancy.

These children were then compared with their own siblings in cases where the mother had not been treated with paracetamol when she was pregnant with them.

During the study's follow-up of up to 26 years, the researchers saw a slight increase in the prevalence of autism, ADHD and intellectual disability in the entire population.

However, when siblings exposed and unexposed to paracetamol in utero were compared, the researchers found no differences. 

Reference: Ahlqvist VH, Sjöqvist H, Dalman C, et al. Acetaminophen use during pregnancy and children’s risk of autism, ADHD, and intellectual disability. JAMA. 2024;331(14):1205-1214. doi: 10.1001/jama.2024.3172

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