Stephen V Faraone PhD AIA 2016 tatAj0

A recent CNN report, http://tinyurl.com/yannlfd6, highlighted a paper published in Pediatrics, which reported that pregnant women who use acetaminophen during pregnancy put their unborn child at two-fold increased risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).   In that study, acetaminophen use during pregnancy was common; nearly half of women surveyed used the painkiller during a pregnancy.   Other studies have reported similar associations of acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol with ADHD or with other problems in childhood (e.g., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5300094/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4177119/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24566677, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24163279). Given these prior findings, it seems unlikely that the new report is a chance finding. But does it make any biological sense?   One answer to that question came from an epigenetic study. Such studies figure out if assaults from the environment change the genetic code. One epigenetic study found that prenatal exposure, changes the fetal genome via a process called methylation. Such genomic changes could increase risk for ADHD (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5540511/)/ . Because all of these studies are observational studies, one cannot assert with certainty that there is a causal link between acetaminophen use during pregnancy. The observed association could be due to some unmeasured third factor. Although the researchers did a respectable job ruling out some third factors, we must acknowledge some uncertainty in the finding. That said, what should pregnant women do if they need a acetaminophen.   I suggest you bring this information to your physician and ask if there is a suitable alternative.

Stephen V. Faraone, PhD

About Stephen V. Faraone, PhD

Dr. Faraone is the Principal ADHD Expert for ADHD in Adults. He is Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and is a member of the Board of APSARD, the American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders. He is the Principal Investigator for ADHD in Adults.com and serves on the Advisory Board.