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Acetaminophen During Pregnancy: Is it Linked to ADHD, Autism Risk?

November 04, 2019

Higher levels of exposure to acetaminophen in utero is associated with increased risk of development of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), suggests the results of a recent study.

Although previous studies have suggested a connection between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and increased risk of ADHD and ASD, most relied on maternal self-report, according to the researchers.

For their prospective cohort study, the researchers analyzed cord plasma acetaminophen metabolites of 996 mother-infant dyads. The metabolites measured were unchanged acetaminophen, acetaminophen glucuronide, and 3-[N-acetyl-l-cystein-S-yl]-acetaminophen and were obtained from archived cord plasma samples collected at birth.

Of the 996 children, 257 had ADHD only, 66 had ASD only, 42 had both ADHD and ASD, 304 had other developmental disabilities, and 327 were neurotypical. Compared with those in the first tertile of cord acetaminophen burden, those in the second and third tertiles had higher odds of ADHD diagnosis (odds ratio [OR] 2.26; 95% CI, 1.40-3.69 and OR 2.86; 95% CI, 1.77-4.67, respectively) and ASD diagnosis (OR 2.14; 95% CI, 0.93-5.13 and OR 3.62; 95% CI, 1.62-8.60, respectively).

“Our findings support previous studies regarding the association between prenatal and perinatal acetaminophen exposure and childhood neurodevelopmental risk and warrant additional investigations,” the researchers concluded.

—Michael Potts


Ji Y, Azuine RE, Zhang Y, et al. Association of cord plasma biomarkers of in utero acetaminophen exposure with risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder in childhood [published online October 30, 2019]. JAMA Psych. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.3259.

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