Tylenol, the most popular over the counter pain medication, is in the headlines again. The last time the product was questioned was in June 2012 when it was rapidly pulled from shelves during a recall. That recall was due to leached pesticides, particles of wood and metal, infectious bacteria, and lets not forget that strange moldy and musty scent.
To be fair, it isn’t exclusively Tylenol that the recent study conducted blames on ADHD, but all medications that contain acetaminophen.
Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol and Panadol and is also present in Excedrin, among other common pain relievers. But, because Tylenol is used by more than 50 percent of pregnant women, Tylenol came under fire.
Although this drug has passed FDA standards decades ago, and pregnant women have been told it is safe, it appears that may not be altogether correct. A study published on Monday by the journal JAMA Pediatrics that studied 64,322 live-born children and mothers enrolled in the Danish National Birth Cohort during 1996-2002 has found that it is linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD.
ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders. Symptoms include difficulties staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity. It is generally treated with stimulant drugs that are prescribed by physicians such as Adderall and Ritalin. There are many others, however, these are the most common.
Data suggests that acetaminophen is a hormone disruptor, and abnormal hormonal exposures in pregnancy may influence fetal brain development.
That study has shown that the probability of a child developing ADHD symptoms severe enough to require medication increased by 63 percent when the mother took acetaminophen during the last two trimesters of pregnancy.
When acetaminophen was used during the third trimester exclusively, the likelihood of ADHD rose to around 28 percent. The lowest risk came when pregnant women used it during their first trimester only.
However, for pregnant women, the study underscores that even when a medication is billed as safe, the safest route is to take it as rarely as possible and at the lowest effective dose, said UCLA obstetrician Dr. Daniel Kahn, a maternal-fetal health specialist who was not involved in the study.
“This highlights the point that the lowest exposure is always the best, for any agent,” Kahn said. He advises his pregnant patients to “use as little as possible to meet your needs, and if you’re having unmet needs beyond that, we need to talk about it.”
He also commented that these findings won’t hinder his recommendation of acetaminophen for pain altogether.
“It certainly wouldn’t stop me from treating a fever,” he said, noting that unchecked fevers have been associated with a number of poor health outcomes in babies, including lowered IQs.
I would think that is a decision best left to the pregnant mothers.
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