Tylenol Use While Pregnant Increases Risk of Child Having ADHD: Study

New research suggests that pregnant women who use acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in the popular painkiller Tylenol, may increase their risk of giving birth to a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  

An international group of researchers published a study in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics on February 24, which appears to show an association between the Tylenol and ADHD, as well as hyperkinetic disorders (HKDs). More than half of pregnant women use acetaminophen, meaning the findings could have widescale implications.

Researchers studied 64,322 children and mothers enrolled in the Danish National Birth Cohort from 1996 to 2002, looking at parental reports of behavioral problems, HKD diagnoses from Danish health care sources and ADHD drug prescriptions.

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The findings suggest that mothers who used acetaminophen were 29% more likely to give birth to a child who would eventually be diagnosed with ADHD, and 37% more likely to give birth to a child with HKD by the age of seven.

“Maternal acetaminophen use during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of HKDs and ADHD-like behaviors in children,” the researchers concluded. “Because the exposure and outcome are frequent, these results are of public health relevance but further investigations are needed.”

An editorial published in the same issue warned against jumping to conclusions from the study. Researchers from the Cardiff School of Medicine indicate that it may be too early to say that acetaminophen is causally linked to ADHD.

“[A]lthough the findings are potentially important, caution should be exercised in ascribing causation to statistical associations between prenatal risk factors and adverse outcomes,” the editorial states. “Although an exposure-response relationship is reported for all 3 outcomes, with increasing frequency of acetaminophen use (indexed by number of weeks of exposure) reported as showing stronger associations, the interpretation of this relationship is not straightforward.”

Acetaminophen Liver Damage

The findings come as Johnson & Johnson faces more than 120 Tylenol liver damage lawsuits filed in the federal court system on behalf of former users, which allege that the drug maker failed to adequately warn about the risks associated with using the common pain medication.

All of the complaints raise similar allegations that Johnson & Johnson built an image for their blockbuster medication as safe and effective by withholding important information about the link between Tylenol and liver problems.

Amid the mounting lawsuits, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all cases filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country in April 2013. The cases are centralized before U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

Tylenol is one of the most widely used painkiller medications in the United States, which has been used by millions of Americans. The medication contains acetaminophen as the active pharmceutical ingredient, which has been identified in recent years as a leading cause for liver injury in the United States.

The FDA has indicated that acetaminophen may be responsible for more than 50,000 emergency room visits each year, including 25,000 hospitalizations and over 450 deaths annually. In recent years, efforts have been ramped up to bring the risk of acetaminophen overdose to the public’s attention and to reduce the amount of liver injury cases linked to the popular analgesic, which is also found in other pain killers and a number of cold medications.

In 2011, Johnson & Johnson lowered the maximum recommended dosage on Tylenol and other acetaminophen-based products from 4,000 mg per day to 3,000 mg per day. However, the lawsuits allege that the drug maker has withheld important safety information from the public for decades, ignoring the narrow window between the recommended dosage for Extra Strength Tylenol and the risk of liver injury.

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8 Comments

  • JennieMay 10, 2022 at 4:24 pm

    I was regularly advised by my doctor to take tylenol for pain and fever, while I was pregnant with my youngest son. He is now 4, and was diagnosed with autism at age 2. He is also non-verbal. I always used ibuprofen for headaches, body aches or fever if I was sick in the past, but when I got pregnant I knew that medicine was understood to be unsafe in pregnancy. So when I asked my OB what would be[Show More]I was regularly advised by my doctor to take tylenol for pain and fever, while I was pregnant with my youngest son. He is now 4, and was diagnosed with autism at age 2. He is also non-verbal. I always used ibuprofen for headaches, body aches or fever if I was sick in the past, but when I got pregnant I knew that medicine was understood to be unsafe in pregnancy. So when I asked my OB what would be safe to use for my occasional headaches or back pain, I was told tylenol was considered to be safe during pregnancy. I never needed to take any kind of pain relievers in my first pregnancy 13 years ago, I was young and limber and lucky with a super easy pregnancy. My 13 yr old is highly advanced intellectually, emotionally, physically. My 4 yr old on the other hand, is legally disabled with developmental delay, speech delay, and autism. If I thought there was even a chance of tylenol causing any neurological damage I never would have taken it and looked further into an alternative. But of course I was assured it was completely safe, and was discouraged from considering any naturopathic drug alternatives, being told those were generally not proven to be as safe or effective as simply taking tylenol. There needs to be more awareness around this, and a lawsuit against the drug manufacturer.

  • WyvanaAugust 18, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    I took Tylenol almost daily for headaches toothache pains mostly while I was pregnant with my son now he suffers from severe ADHD when he was diagnosed when he was about 9 he's sixteen now and he has learning disorders IEP and behavioral disorders

  • charityAugust 17, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    I have 2 boys and I didn't take Tylenol for the first one and he is perfectly fine with no problems and even skipped a grade in middle school. My youngest son I took Tylenol with and he has severe ADD,ADHD, and Bi-polar. He was diagnosed when he was 4.

  • KinnaAugust 16, 2016 at 10:49 pm

    I have a 6 yr old who was diagnosed with adhd whn he was 2. I took tylenol during pregnancy for headaches and pains from stretching thinking it was safe.

  • ColeenAugust 25, 2014 at 2:21 am

    My name is Coleen and During both of my pregnancies for the beginning to end I took Tylenol for pain and headaches . I have 2 children one 6 and one 8 both of my children are ADHD. They have both were diagnosed when they were 3yrs and 4months old.

  • CourtneyMarch 11, 2014 at 12:58 am

    My son is nine and he has severe ADHD. He was diagnosed at age 5. I took Tylenol almost daily, multiple times for very terrible headaches during my pregnancy with him.

  • TinaMarch 4, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    My Child is 7 and has adhd. Took tylenol for headaches during pregnancy of 2005-2006. She wad diagnosed with Adhd in 2012.

  • DarlineMarch 2, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    My child is ADHD with learning problem I was pregnancy and took prescription 500mg. Tylenol for 6 month in 2004

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