Paracetamol During Pregnancy Associated With Hyperactive Children

Australian experts say more research is needed and it's still the best way to treat fever and pain.

15/08/2016 2:06 PM AEST | Updated 16/08/2016 2:27 AM AEST
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Pregnant women are advised to take paracetamol when needed for the shortest duration possible.

Paracetamol is the first choice of painkiller recommended to pregnant Australian women but a new study found an association between the drug and behavioral problems in childhood.

The UK study of 7700 mothers, published in journal JAMA Pediatrics, found taking paracetamol at 18 and 32 weeks was associated with increased risk of hyperactivity in children, with the 32-week group also associated with a higher risk of emotional symptoms and "total difficulties". The increase in behavioral issues was about five percent higher than the general population.

Paracetamol is useful in treating fever and different types of pain and it still remains our first choice for treating these conditions during pregnancy.Luke Grzeskowiak

University of Melbourne Professorial Fellow in Neuroscience Norman Saunders said the statistics didn't stack up to the claims.

"The authors make the bold claim: 'Children exposed to acetaminophen [paracetamol] prenatally are at increased risk of multiple behavioral difficulties'," Saunders quoted.

"However, such a causal relationship is not established by this sort of data. All that should be claimed is that an association has been uncovered, which certainly is potentially serious enough to warrant further investigation."

Saunders said there was a chance the paracetamol was taken because of an infection, cold or flu, which could account for the increased risk of difficulties in offspring.

Paracetamol is still a recommended painkiller for pregnant women.

University of Adelaide Robinson Research Institute doctor Luke Grzeskowiak said Australian women should continue using paracetamol but only when needed.

"The key message from this study is only to take paracetamol when absolutely necessary and to take it for the shortest possible duration, not to avoid it completely," Grzeskowiak said.

"Paracetamol is useful in treating fever and different types of pain and it still remains our first choice for treating these conditions during pregnancy.

"Because it is so commonly used and easy to get your hands on, women may reach for paracetamol as soon as they experience any symptoms, without necessarily thinking much about it."

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