UK press misreports paracetamol’s autism / ADHD links

Paracetamol is the most widely used analgesic in the world and was once deemed the only painkiller that is safe for mothers-to-be.

However, women who take paracetamol during pregnancy “risk having a child with autism or ADHD”, the Mail Online reported last week. Other UK newspapers, The Times and The Daily Telegraph, are also ‘guilty’ of publishing headlines that could potentially cause unnecessary worry for pregnant women.

Paracetamol-During-Pregnancy

The Spanish study that reported on the matter actually provided no direct link or solid evidence to ADHD or autism. Over 2,000 pregnant women using paracetamol, before and during pregnancy, were assessed between 2004 and 2008. Various developmental and behavioural tests on the children at the ages of one and five were then conducted.

Links were found between paracetamol use and hyperactivity / impulse symptoms at age five, and autism symptoms in boys. There was however no direct link to ADHD or autism symptoms, nor a link to intellect or development in the children being affected.

The study will most likely contribute to the long list of pregnancy “dos” and “don’ts” owing to its media focus. Most importantly, the NHS has confirmed that there was no link with the full diagnostic criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism; highlighting that the study cannot prove that using paracetamol in pregnancy caused these symptoms.

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