It may lead to neurodevelopmental problems in the child – such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivy disorder) and autism according to new research
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Taking paracetamol in pregnancy can damage a baby’s development in the womb, according to new research.
It may lead to neurodevelopmental problems in the child – such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivy disorder) and autism.
Other potential risks include lower IQ and infertility, say scientists.
Mums-to-be should only use the drug when absolutely necessary – and for the shortest possible duration.
An international team reviewed studies on humans, animals and cell lines over the last 26 years.
Corresponding author Prof David Kristensen, of the University of Copenhagen, said: “Many suggest paracetamol can alter foetal development.”
It is the most common over the counter pill taken by pregnant women. Up to two in three use it to relieve pain or fever.
But it disrupts hormones by working in a similar way to controversial chemicals called phthalates – used to make plastic soft and flexible.
Co-author Professor Shanna Swan, of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, said: “It lowers testosterone. It should be regarded as an endocrine disrupting chemical.”
The hormone is key to healthy male reproduction. One study found women who took paracetamol were more likely to have boys born with undescended testes – raising the risk of future troubles.
NHS guidelines say the drug should be taken only if necessary in pregnancy and for the shortest possible time.
And anyone needing long-term treatment must seek medical advice.
The UK watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, says paracetamol is one of the few painkillers generally considered safe if expectant mothers absolutely need to take it.
Prof Swan said: “There is now a significant body of evidence that suggests paracetamol disrupts the reproductive development of animals and humans, decreasing sperm count and fertility.
“It is similar in action to a class of chemicals called phthalates – sharing many of the same properties.”
There is also evidence paracetamol reduces fertility in females, said Prof Swan.
It is considered the safest analgesic for pregnant women and children but mounting evidence has linked prenatal exposure to poorer cognitive performance and behavioural problems.
Co author Dr Ann Bauer, of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said: “Paracetamol in pregnancy increases the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in the child.
“They were primarily ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, language delays, decreased IQ and conduct disorders.
“This is particularly concerning because a large number of pregnant women take paracetamol – up to 65 percent in the United States.
“Even a small increase in risk could translate into a large number of affected children.
“We call for government and gynaecological associations to conduct new safety reviews of the neurological affects of paracetamol.”
In a consensus statement in Nature Reviews Endocrinology, the researchers women should be counselled early on in pregnancy to forego paracetamol unless medically indicated.
Added Prof Kristensen: “Women should be advised by their clinicians about the potential risks.
“They should use the lowest dose possible for the shortest time during their pregnancy.”