Pregnant? Maybe go easy on the acetaminophen

Research suggests implications for fetal development.

Courtesy National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease

Courtesy National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease

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Acetaminophen is everywhere. First marketed in the US in the 1950s, it became an over-the-counter medication in 1960. The pain-relieving, fever-reducing compound has been more widely used than aspirin since the 1980s. It’s now the active ingredient in over 600 medications.

But despite acetaminophen’s overall reputation for safety, a team of 13 scientists, including epidemiologist Zeyan Liew of the School of Public Health, is advising pregnant women to use caution. They cite a growing body of research showing the drug might alter fetal development.  

In a consensus statement published in the journal Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 91 researchers, clinicians, and public health experts from around the world supported findings that acetaminophen may be at least partially responsible for rising rates of male and female reproductive disorders; cognitive, learning, and behavioral problems in children.

Sixty-five percent of pregnant women report ever having taken the drug, which is their most commonly used medication. “Public health researchers’ radar is activated when something is so widely used and considered so safe,” Liew says.

Their recommendations mirror current advice: forgo the drug unless a health care professional says it’s medically indicated, and use the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.  They also call for further study. “Evidence of neurodevelopmental toxicity of any type,” the statement concludes, should “trigger prioritization and some level of action.”  

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