Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Asthma Health Center

Font Size

Acetaminophen in Pregnancy: Link to Baby's Asthma?

Study Suggests an Increase in Asthma Risk When Pregnant Women Take Some Painkillers
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 30, 2011 -- Pregnant women who take the popular painkiller acetaminophen (Acephen, Actamin, Feverall, Tylenol, and Uniserts) may be boosting their baby's risk of asthma, according to a new report.

But the findings should not be cause for alarm, says study researcher Richard Beasley, MD, professor of medicine at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand. "It is still considered a safe drug to take and our findings don't alter that recommendation.”

What is not known, he tells WebMD, is whether the link between the use of painkillers during pregnancy and asthma in the child is truly cause and effect.

"The message would be that this study raises some concern, and that it really reinforces the general principle to avoid unnecessary medication during pregnancy," he says. "This [report] does not change the recommendation."

Acetaminophen, called paracetamol in New Zealand, would ''remain as the preferred analgesic'' to bring down fever in a pregnant woman, he says. "But we would caution against the regular use, particularly regular unnecessary use, during pregnancy.”

The report is published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy.

Painkillers During Pregnancy

Previous research, including some by the New Zealand researchers, has suggested that use of the painkiller during pregnancy may increase asthma risk in children.

In the new report, Beasley and his colleagues re-evaluated the results of six previously published studies.

Overall, Beasley found that the use of the painkiller by pregnant women during any stage of pregnancy was linked with a 21% increased risk of asthma in their young children.

The increasing use of acetaminophen, some experts say, may have contributed to the rising rates of asthma worldwide. In the U.S., 24.6 million people, about 8.2% of the population, have asthma, according to the CDC.

In the six studies, the children ranged in age from 2 1/2 to 7. Parents were asked if their child had wheezing in the last 12 months.

"'We would say wheezing is a marker for asthma," Beasley tells WebMD.

No information was available on the dose of painkiller taken or how often.

The results from the separate studies vary. One Spanish study, for instance, found a link between the use of acetaminophen by the mother at least once a month during pregnancy and the chance her child had wheezing by preschool age. But the link was only found among mothers without asthma, not those who had asthma.

In a U.S. study of 1,505 women, the use of acetaminophen did not increase the risk of asthma overall. And in mothers who used it only during the first or third trimesters, it was linked with a reduced risk of asthma.

Researchers cannot explain the link, when found, Beasley says. One speculation is that the breakdown products of the painkiller may increase the risk of inflammation. If the inflammation affects the airway, he says, that could increase the risk of asthma.

When Is Your Asthma Worse?

When Is Your Asthma Worse?

Take the WebMD Asthma assessment to get Personalized Action Plan

Start Now

Today on WebMD

Distressed woman
Slideshow
Woman holding an asthma inhaler
Article
 
Get Personalized Asthma Advice
Health Check
asthma overview
Slideshow
 
Los Angeles skyline in smog
Slideshow
man in a field with allergies
Slideshow
 
Woman holding inhaler
VIDEO
Slideshow Allergy Myths and Facts
Slideshow
 

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Man outdoors coughing
Article
Lung and bronchial tube graphic
Article
 
10 Worst Asthma Cities
Slideshow
runner
Article