Search icon


23rd Apr 2024

Study finds taking paracetamol in pregnancy does not increase risk of autism or ADHD

Anna Martin


A new study has found that taking acetaminophen while pregnant doesn’t increase the risk of autism or ADHD

Acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, is a common over-the-counter painkiller take can be taken to treat a number of ailments.

For years, it was believed that taking the drug while pregnant could increase the risk of your baby developing a neurodevelopmental disorder, but new research has found otherwise.

The study, published in the journal JAMA on Tuesday, analysed the prenatal and medical records of about 2.5 million children born in Sweden between 1995 and 2019.

The researchers compared data on those who were exposed to acetaminophen with those who were not and noted a small risk of autism, ADHD, and intellectual disabilities in the exposed group.

Yet when they used a sibling analysis – where they compared siblings with the same biological parents – they found there was no evidence that acetaminophen use during pregnancy increased the risk for these disorders.

This current study, which was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), is the largest of its kind.

Credit: Canva

This is important, as is the sibling analyses. That allowed researchers to limit the influence of other potential risk factors and to focus specifically on the risks associated with acetaminophen in pregnancy.

However, it is limited by the fact that it relies on data from prescribed acetaminophen and from self-reporting, which means the researchers may not have captured all acetaminophen use including from other over-the-counter medications.

Fortunately, due to the size of people they used in their research, this limitation should have had a minimal impact

While the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency consider acetaminophen to pose minimal risk during pregnancy, a 2021 statement by an international group of scientists and doctors called for precautionary action and recommended that pregnant individuals “forgo [acetaminophen] unless its use is medically indicated.”

While the use of acetaminophen is generally considered safe to use in pregnancy and is thought to be much safer than other medications like aspirin and ibuprofen, a number of experts have advised pregnant people to abstain from using it unless absolutely necessary.

Consequently, these recommendations may have caused pregnant people to avoid using the over-the-counter medication, even when it’s needed.