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Acetaminophin in Pregnancy: A Cause of Kids' and Adult ADHD?

Sometimes a wandering mind gets folks in trouble. Was mom's Tylenol the culprit?

Source: (c) Anna_Om
Source: Source: (c) Anna_Om
ADHD energy is sometimes fun, sometimes problematic.

A guest post by Marc Seide, New England College’s online program in psychology

A recent Danish study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics raises new concerns about acetaminophen use by expectant mothers, linking it to a possible increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD can lead to school problems for kids, plus work and marital issues for adults. If the association this study has found proves to be substantiated by further studies, the findings could represent a significant breakthrough in prevention of this frustrating disorder.

Acetaminophen is a common pain reliever, found in popular brands such as Excedrin and Tylenol. Its safety has been well-documented and it may be used by pregnant women to relieve fevers and pain.

Five to six percent of all children will develop ADHD symptoms by age seven. Based on the study’s findings, children exposed in the womb to acetaminophen face a increased risk, that is, a risk of about seven percent.

Resesarchers Zeyan Liew, MPH; Beate Ritz, MD, PhD; Cristina Rebordosa, MD, PhD; Pei-Chen Lee, PhD; and Jørn Olsen, MD, PhD, described their findings as follows:

"More than half of all mothers reported acetaminophen use while pregnant. Children whose mothers used acetaminophen during pregnancy were at higher risk for… use of ADHD medications and/or having ADHD-like behaviors at age 7 years.

Stronger associations were observed with use in more than 1 trimester during pregnancy…

Results did not appear to be confounded by maternal inflammation, infection during pregnancy, the mother’s mental health problems, or other potential confounders we evaluated."

Researchers in this study and others are contributing important clues in the search for the causes of ADHD, as ADHD can greatly influence quality of life in both children and adults.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder. It is most often diagnosed in children, but it can affect adults as well. No matter what their age, people with ADHD can face difficulties ranging from the ability to learn and get along with others, to career and relationship issues. Choosing the right professional to diagnose ADHD can be challenging; however the top three are psychiatrists, psychologists, and neurologists.

ADHD Signs and Symptoms

Kids can be excitable, fidgety, talkative, and inattentive. But children with ADHD hang on to behaviors that their peers grow out of. They might be labeled as “troublemakers” for displaying ADHD symptoms, such as:

  • Frequent daydreaming.
  • Inability to listen.
  • Forgetting or losing important things often.
  • Difficulty getting along with others.
  • Squirming or fidgeting.
  • Talking too much.
  • Having trouble taking turns.
  • Taking unnecessary risks.
  • Making careless mistakes.

ADHD makes it difficult for people to suppress their natural responses to stimuli. Signs and symptoms of ADHD appear across all situations – home, play and school – and usually before the age of seven.

Myths About ADHD in Children

Both children and adults with ADHD can experience positive aspects of the disorder. They are often very intelligent and creative, with unique problem-solving abilities and artistic talent. People with ADHD are often motivated, energetic and fun to be around.

While life with ADHD can be fulfilling, there are also persistent myths that can be harmful to children with the disorder, such as:

  • All kids with ADHD are hyperactive: Actually, many are calm, but inattentive.
  • Kids can grow out of ADHD: ADHD often continues into adulthood.
  • Medication is the best treatment: While medication is often prescribed, it doesn’t work for every child. Nutrition, education, behavior therapy and exercise may be treatment options.
  • Kids with ADHD can choose to behave better: Children may try their best to be “good,” but are unable to control their behavior.
  • Kids with ADHD will never pay attention: Actually, they are often able to focus on enjoyable activities, but not those they find repetitive or boring.

ADHD Affects Adults, Too

Adults with ADHD often were misdiagnosed as children. They may have been ignored, or labeled “difficult.” Many manage their ADHD symptoms successfully throughout childhood, only to lose that ability once they reach adulthood, with its increasing demands and responsibilities.

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Adults

For adults with ADHD, life can be chaotic. While symptoms are different for each person, there are some common behaviors:

  • Difficulty focusing on tasks or people.
  • Easily bored or distracted.
  • Overlooking details, which leads to errors.
  • Poor listening skills and difficulty remembering conversations.
  • Hyper focus on stimulating tasks.
  • Poor organizational skills and constantly losing things.
  • Procrastination, and trouble starting and finishing projects.
  • Impulsive behavior or poor self-control.

Undiagnosed or untreated ADHD can be devastating for adults, because every part of life can be affected. Potential health problems can include compulsive eating or substance abuse issues. Other issues may include an inability to meet deadlines or hold down a job. Financial problems can ensue if spending becomes impulsive and bills aren’t paid and relationships suffer from lack of listening or perceived insensitivity.

Dealing with ADHD in Adulthood

Adults may welcome the diagnosis of ADHD because it gives them an answer to a lifelong problem. Understanding ADHD is the first step to managing symptoms and living fully. Taking care of one’s physical health can help. Eating right, exercising and getting enough rest can even out mood swings and calm the body and mind.

Practicing time management can help control procrastination, while setting reminders and alarms will overcome chronic lateness or the tendency to miss appointments. Working on listening skills can improve relationships and creating a supportive work environment can increase productivity.

Back to Acetominophin

The findings in this study certainly give reasons for pregnant women to increase their wariness of taking medication to reduce discomfort during pregnancy. Alternatives like increased rest, acupuncture, and even old fashioned grin-and-bear-it may prove more positive in the long run.


Denver clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, PhD is author of, a website that teaches the skills for marriage partnership success.

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