The study published this Friday on European Journal of Epidemiology collects a harmonized analysis on the data of 73,881 boys and girls from six groups from different European countries (United Kingdom, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, Greece and Spain), who have been followed up from the mother’s womb as early as throughout its first years of life. The results reveal that boys and girls who had been exposed to paracetamol before birth were 19% more likely to develop symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and 21% more likely to develop attention deficit disorders ( ADHD) than the unexposed. This conclusion does not indicate a causality, since there is no experiment that proves that the risk is absolute, but that it is relative. However, it does conclude the recommendation that “although paracetamol should not be suppressed in pregnant women or children, it should be used only when necessary,” explains one of the authors, Claudia Avella, child psychiatrist at the Sagrat Cor de Martorell Hospital.
Vaccinated mothers could protect their babies by breastfeeding
To examine how the consumption of this popular painkiller affects these types of disorders, any dose of the medicine has been taken into account, from half a pill on a sporadic day to continued use. This study, carried out by ISGlobal, a center promoted by Fundación La Caixa, has not graduated the response according to the dose, although some previous studies have, specifically one on the group of boys and girls studied in Spain, in 2016, ” and previous studies suggest that the higher the dose, the greater the negative effect. ”
The study has taken into account the variables that can influence the appearance of ASD or ADHD. “We looked at characteristics of the mother, the children, or that a child could be at higher risk of suffering from ASD or ADHD”, such as the case of having an affected brother. “They were taken into account to correct the results and see that these were not the effect of one of these other variables,” explains Avella. The reason why the mother was taking paracetamol was also asked: “It was necessary to know if what influences it is the fever or the paracetamol that you take for the fever. The results that we see are the corrected results taking this into account”.
Little study of functional effects
Paracetamol is one of the most common drugs. It is the fourth best-selling in Spain and the third among painkillers, according to the Observatorio del Medicamento. It is a medicine for which a prescription is necessary if the pill is 1 gram but not for lower doses, so it is usual to self-prescribe to soothe small pains. Between 14% and 56% of the mothers who participated in this study had taken paracetamol at some point while they were pregnant. “Generally, paracetamol is the most recommended analgesic in pregnancy, so the question that arises will be more about the risk / benefit of using it,” says Dr. Avella.
Despite being such a common drug, its relationship to autism spectrum and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders was poorly studied. “The studies that are carried out with medication focus more on the physical effects, they look more at the anatomical characteristics, so looking at the functional part, especially if we talk about later in life and not only at birth, is novel” explains the psychiatrist. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric pathology that affects between 2% and 5% of the child population and that begins to reveal itself before the age of 7. According to the Spanish Federation of Associations for Assistance to Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity, “it tends to be insufficiently diagnosed and treated.” Regarding autism spectrum disorder, figures from epidemiological studies place it at 1 case per 100 births. In recent years there has been a considerable increase in the cases detected and diagnosed, according to the Autism Spain confederation.