Experts warn taking common pain reliever during pregnancy is risky

A common over-the-counter pain reliever called acetaminophen (paracetamol) is the subject of a new consensus statement from researchers who are concerned about its potential risk when taken during pregnancy. The editorial summarizes existing data on the use of acetaminophen during pregnancy and its potential to cause fetal developmental problems.

Acetaminophen is considered an acceptable way to address more mild pains during pregnancy, assuming it is taken according to guidelines or as directed by a doctor. However, a growing number of studies have called into question how safe the pain reliever is for the developing fetus, raising concerns about potentially contributing to ADHD and other neurological issues.

The new statement summarizing the potential risks of acetaminophen when taken during pregnancy also includes evidence pointing toward possible urogenital and reproductive disorders, as well. This is particularly concerning as acetaminophen is an ingredient in hundreds of medications, including many available over the counter to treat things like fever and aches.

The professionals explain in their statement:

As scientists, medical experts and public health professionals, we are concerned about increasing rates of neurological, urogenital and reproductive disorders. We are witnessing disturbing increases in the number of children with cognitive, learning and/or behavioral problems [...] Data support the contribution of environmental exposure during fetal life, including exposure to pharmaceuticals, to these increases in rates of neurological, urogenital and reproductive disorders.

Though the consensus statement doesn't call for pregnant women to entirely avoid acetaminophen, it does state, "We believe the potential for harm from continued inaction exceeds the harm that might arise from precautionary action."

Among other things, the experts recommend that pregnant women should avoid using acetaminophen unless it is "medically indicated" and that they should first talk with their pharmacist or doctor before using the drug on a long-term basis, among other things. As well, the experts suggest that risk should be minimized by taking the lowest effective dose of acetaminophen and only using it for "the shortest possible time."