FEB 22, 2018 6:37 AM PST

Can This Common Pain Reliever Cause Language Delays in Children?

When a woman is pregnant, she will naturally want to know all about what medications are safe, what foods are best for sustaining a healthy pregnancy and what impact anything she consumes will have on her child. Smoking and using alcohol are definitely not advised in pregnancy, but until recently many believed that a popular over the counter pain reliever could be used safely.

A new study from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York has challenged that assumption with research that suggests using acetaminophen during pregnancy is associated with a greater chance of a child having a speech delay. It's the first study that looks at language development in mothers who used the medication during pregnancy.

A comprehensive database, known as the Swedish Environmental Longitudinal, Mother and Child, Asthma and Allergy study (SELMA) was the source for information from 754 women who were a part of the study beginning in the early weeks of their pregnancies. They were asked to report how many times they had taken tables of acetaminophen between conception and when they became a part of the study. Urine samples were collected from the women at enrollment, and the concentration of the drug was recorded.

For the study, "language delay" was strictly defined as using 50 or fewer words and was measured by a nurse's assessment of speech and a questionnaire filled out by parents on developmental milestones and language acquisition at the age of 30 months (2.5 years) of age. Parameters for using the medication were "high use" and "no use" with women who had never taken the medication used as the control group.

In all of the children involved in the study, the prevalence of a language delay was about 10%. Delays were more common in boys than in girls, however in the girls born to mothers who had used acetaminophen during early pregnancy, there was a much higher chance of a language delay. Previous research has shown an association between communication problems in children born to mothers who used the pain reliever more often in pregnancy, and some research has linked its use to ADHD, but that connection has been called weak by other experts.

Statistically, speech and language issues are more common in boys than in girls, so it seems the connection to the analgesic could be affecting the reduced risk girls have over boys in language acquisition. The researchers plan to follow the children until the age of seven to see if the problem persists. Acetaminophen, or paracetamol as it's called in Europe, is the active ingredient in Tylenol and other medications that treat pain, fever or colds. The CDC estimates that 65% of pregnant women in the United States have used it.

Senior author, Shanna Swan, Ph.D., Professor of Environmental and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai explained, "Given the prevalence of prenatal acetaminophen use and the importance of language development, our findings, if replicated, suggest that pregnant women should limit their use of this analgesic during pregnancy. It's important for us to look at language development because it has shown to be predictive of other neurodevelopmental problems in children." The video below has more information, take a look.

Sources: Mount Sinai, Journal, European Psychiatry, Consumer Affairs

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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