Monday, July 11, 2016

Beware the Tylenol-Autism Freakout

A new study claims a link between acetaminophen use while pregnant and autism in children. The only problem is, the science is riddled with holes.

Here’s what the study of over 2,500 mother-child pairs in Spain actually found: Male children who had been exposed to the painkiller in uteroexperienced symptoms of autism and ADHD in a way that seemed “dependent on the frequency of exposure.” For female children, only the link between acetaminophen and attention-related symptoms could be confirmed.
While that may sound concerning, the study is riddled with methodological holes that should cast doubt on strong claims of a causative relationship between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and autism or ADHD.
For one, the authors could not completely rule out the possibility that the underlying medical conditions which prompt pregnant women to use acetaminophen could account for some of the symptoms experienced by their children down the line.

“Since ADHD and ASC [autism spectrum condition] have been associated with maternal infection and inflammation, despite adjustment for reported maternal chronic illness, urinary tract infection and fever, residual confounding by indication could still be a limitation,” the authors noted.

In layman’s terms: illness during pregnancy, not painkiller use, could partially account for their findings.