Prenatal Acetaminophen: An Asthma Link?
Pregnant Women Who Take Acetaminophen Could Raise Asthma Risk in Their Kids
March 19, 2008 (Philadelphia) -- Some kids whose moms take acetaminophen during pregnancy may be more likely to
have asthma symptoms, a new study
suggests. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in painkillers such as
Researchers found that 5-year-old children of high-risk mothers who took
acetaminophen in pregnancy were 70% more likely to suffer wheezing than kids
whose moms didn't take the medicine-cabinet staple.
Taking acetaminophen in the was most risky, increasing the
odds that kids would have asthma symptoms by 90%.
But kids who took acetaminophen when they were age 1, 2, or 3 were no more
likely to have breathing difficulties at age 5 than their counterparts who
didn't take the drug.
The findings were presented here at the annual meeting of the American
Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).
High-Risk Families Studied
The researchers studied only families at high risk of developing asthma
"not because of individual risk factors like family history but because
they were living in inner-city neighborhoods where asthma is common," says
Matthew S. Perzanowski, PhD, assistant professor of environmental health
sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York
"But it's possible the findings are generalizable" to other families
as well, he tells WebMD. Five-year-olds whose moms took acetaminophen in
pregnancy were also more likely to have trouble sleeping, to have been rushed
to the emergency department, and to have used other medications, "all
things associated with wheezing in asthmatics," Perzanowski adds.
Wheeze Risk Rises as Acetaminophen Use Goes Up
The study does not prove cause-and-effect. And the findings "may apply
only to the inner-city population in which it was carried out," says Andy
Nish, MD, of the Allergy and Asthma Care Center in Gainesville, Ga.
"While acetaminophen is generally presumed to be safe, the study
findings, while preliminary, are cautionary," Nish says.
But it did suggest that the more acetaminophen a woman took during
pregnancy, the greater the risk her young child would suffer wheezing. That
strengthens the possibility of a real link, Nish says. He was not involved with
"Acetaminophen should not be taken without reason, particularly in women
and children with a history or family history of allergic disease," he
Asthma Rates Skyrocketing Among Kids
The asthma statistics for kids are frightening, Perzanowski says. Nine
million U.S. children under 18 have been diagnosed with asthma. Asthma rates in
children under 5 shot up more than 160% from 1980 to 1994, according to
Among children in the inner city, the picture is even bleaker. One study
found nearly one in three youngsters under age 12 is affected.
While some experts have blamed increased exposure to allergens from
cockroaches and mice and to air pollution for the unprecedented rise in asthma
rates among these kids, Perzanowski says the timeline doesn't really fit.
Seeking another explanation, his team set out to determine whether taking
acetaminophen during pregnancy or young childhood raises the risk of wheezing
at age 5.