Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, has been linked to the development of symptoms generally associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
in children whose mothers took the painkiller frequently during pregnancy, according to a new study from Denmark.
Between 1996 and 2002, the Danish National Birth Cohort study analyzed some 64,000 children and their mothers and found that prenatal exposure to acetaminophen may increase a child's risk of "exhibiting ADHD-like behaviors." Acetaminophen also has been linked to hyperkinetic disorder (HKD), a severe form of ADHD.
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Additionally, the researchers found that children had a 50 percent increased risk for receiving ADHD medication for their behavior if their mothers had used acetaminophen for 20 or more weeks.
According to the study, which was published on Monday in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics
, the research suggested that "acetaminophen is a hormone disruptor, and abnormal hormonal exposures in pregnancy may influence fetal brain development."
An editorial published alongside the study, which several physicians contributed to, cautioned pediatricians and pregnant women from altering their practices until more research is conducted, The Los Angeles Times noted.
One of the study's authors, Dr. Beate Ritz, professor and chair of the epidemiology department at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health, explained the sentiment.
"[Pregnant women] shouldn't worry at this point," Ritz told CNN
. "But if I were a woman who was pregnant ... I would try to avoid taking painkillers as much as I can until we know more about this."
Dr. Max Wiznitzer, pediatric neurologist and associate professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, agreed.
"There are a lot of variables that still need to be considered, such as the fact that ADHD runs in families," Wiznitzer told CNN, adding that 70 to 80 percent of ADHD cases are hereditary. "I'm afraid that [women] will think, somehow, that they caused their child's problem when the study does not tell us that. It tells us that they are linked, but does not tell us how."
In response to the study, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the maker of Tylenol, issued a statement earlier this week.
"When used as directed, Tylenol has one of the most favorable safety profiles among over-the-counter pain relievers," the McNeil Consumer Healthcare statement read. "We are aware of the recent JAMA Pediatrics study; however, there are no prospective, randomized controlled studies demonstrating a causal link between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and adverse effects on child development."
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