Taking Tylenol During Pregnancy May Increase ADHD Risk

Many pregnant women take acetaminophen to help alleviate headaches — the drug has long been considered safe to take during pregnancy. However, this morning on The Today Show Dr. Nancy Synderman revealed that acetaminophen may increase an unborn baby's risk of developing ADHD, according to a new study.

Dr. Beate Ritz, an epidemiologist at the University of California Los Angeles, worked on the study and suggests that pregnant women should avoid chronic or long-term use of the pain reliever acetaminophen (sold under the brand name Tylenol) until more definitive studies can be done.

Infections such as influenza during pregnancy are known to effect the brain development of babies and are linked to conditions such as autism — one of the reasons pregnant women are urged to get flu shots. So for this study, researchers were careful to ask women if they were taking acetaminophen to reduce flu-like symptoms.

Researchers used ongoing Danish studies of 64,000 children and their mothers who were called regularly to determine if they had taken any type of pain or fever medications. About half had taken acetaminophen, as the team reported in the Monday edition of the American Medical Association journal JAMA Pediatrics.The team noted that some women feel pain more acutely and are likely to take painkillers more frequently: they possibly have a genetic predisposition that could increase the risk of ADHD. The researchers could not make a clear estimate of risk based on medication dosage alone.

What they did learn was that women who reported ever taking the drug had a 29 percent higher risk of birthing a child diagnosed with ADHD, and a 37 percent higher risk of the rarer diagnosis called hyperkinetic syndrome.

Leading physicians seem to agree that while one study is not enough to say that all women should avoid us of acetaminophen during pregnancy, other research and lab studies still suggest that the drug might have a hormone-like effect on a developing fetus. And although it is considered a gentle drug, the Food and Drug Administration has already asked drug companies to limit the amount they put in their products since large amounts can damage the liver.