Children of women who take Tylenol (acetaminophen) during pregnancy have a 37% increased risk of being diagnosed with ADHD and a 29% increased risk of needing ADHD medications over kids whose mothers didn’t take the drug while pregnant, according to a large-scale Danish study. This is a correlation, not proof of causation. The two factors occur together, but they could be entirely unrelated.
Scientifically, a single study showing a correlation should not be a cause for alarm. This is pregnancy we’re talking about, a time when women are extra cautious and extra worried about everything they ingest. As one of the study’s authors said,
“As a scientist, I never want to be alarmist and use one study [to make clinical decisions]. But as a woman, when I see something like that, I would be worried, and wouldn’t take Tylenol during pregnancy any more.”
For most women, this is a fine, if sometimes uncomfortable, option, but having a headache disorder complicates the issue. Not taking any medication during pregnancy could mean months of severe pain and symptoms like nausea and vomiting (which could also be problematic in pregnancy). Women are frequently told that acetaminophen (or occasionally opioid painkillers that include acetaminophen) is the only safe option. What if the safe option isn’t actually safe?
What’s the best choice — a horribly painful pregnancy or the possibility of impaired fetal development from taking medication? Whether you’re deciding if you should take painkillers or triptans, that’s a decision you can only make for yourself. Consider how a medication-free pregnancy would affect your life and talk to both your headache specialist and obstetrician about options. They are likely to give you conflicting opinions; you’ll either need to get them to talk to each other or choose the one you trust most on the issue.
The answer is never simple, is it?
Learn more about the study’s findings: