Can Pregnant Mothers Safely Take Tylenol?

With recent news linking Tylenol with autism and ADHD, consumers are particularly concerned about the safety of the ubiquitous over-the-counter drug.  Tylenol, a household staple since its market introduction in 1955, has been a popular drug for fevers and various other minor ailments.

However, the same epidemiologist who helped convince jurors that baby powder likely causes ovarian cancer is now equally convinced of the dangers of frequent acetaminophen use during pregnancy. While other experts are cautioning they don't have enough clinical evidence to determine whether there is a causal link between Tylenol and ADHD and autism, Roberta Ness argues that we can't wait.  Lives are at stake. 

"I believe that acetaminophen is a cause of autism and ADHD," said Ness, former dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health and a leading voice in women's health research.

More than two dozen studies around the world have linked a pregnant person's frequent use of acetaminophen – brand name Tylenol – to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in their child. Lawsuits are pending. 

As many as two-thirds of pregnant people take acetaminophen, the painkiller deemed safest during pregnancy. Roughly 10% take it for more than a month. Data suggests a "dose response" – meaning the more acetaminophen someone takes during pregnancy, the higher their risk of having a child with autism or ADHD.

"I'm not saying that acetaminophen is now the cause (of autism and ADHD). I'm saying that it's cause," she continued. "This is our first opportunity to find an exposure that may be preventable and may be a cause."

If recent studies are right, she said, roughly 20% of children diagnosed with autism or ADHD were exposed to high levels of the painkiller while in utero.  But about 1 out of 7 children who develop autism today might have been able to avoid the diagnosis if they hadn't been exposed to acetaminophen in utero, Ness estimates.

But many of the 65% of pregnant people taking the drug may be able to do something else instead.

"They've been told for so long that it's perfectly safe that they take it without a lot of thought," Bauer said. "I have to think there's some minor discomfort and nuisance-type pain that there has to be some other non-medical ways to treat."

If you or a loved one took Tylenol while pregnant and your child has been diagnosed with ADHD or autism, contact us today for a free initial consultation. 

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