Prenatal exposure to paracetamol can increase risk of ADHD and autism in children, study reveals

Using a common pain-relieving drug in pregnancy could increase the risk of ADHD and autism in children, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, is among the first to suggest an association between paracetamol and neurodegenerative disorders in pregnancy.

Paracetamol is generally considered the safest pain-relieving medication for pregnant women and children, but mounting evidence is linking the drug to neurological conditions and behavioural problems.

According to the paper, the authors looked at the data of more than 70,000 children across six European countries, including the United Kingdom, to study the prevalence of ADHD and autism symptoms and compared them against various factors, such as what medication mothers were taking at the time of birth.

Depending on the cohort, around 14 per cent to 56 per cent of mothers reported taking paracetamol while pregnant.

It was found that children exposed to paracetamol before birth were 19 per cent more likely to develop autism spectrum conditions (ASC) symptoms and 21 per cent more likely to develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms than children who were not exposed.

However, the study found no link between postnatal exposure to paracetamol and the increased risk of developmental problems in childhood.

Commenting on the findings, lead author Sílvia Alemany said: “Considering all the evidence on the use of paracetamol and neurological development, we agree with previous recommendations indicating that while paracetamol should not be suppressed in pregnant women or children, it should be used only when necessary.”

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.

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