Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Harmful for Babies
An article in the New York Times this week warns that prenatal use of acetaminophen—the main ingredient in Tylenol—has been linked to an increased risk of asthma and attention disorders in children whose mothers took the drug.
Acetaminophen is found in over 600 over-the-counter and prescription medications. Petra Arck, professor of fetal-maternal medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, whose rodent experiments have found that acetaminophen stresses the liver and alters the placenta in pregnant mice, told the Times that because it’s so common pregnant women may be taking more acetaminophen than they are aware.
The damage done by acetaminophen seems to be dose dependent—the more a pregnant woman takes, the more serious the effects in her offspring. But since it’s found in so many products, many marketed for babies and children, what if infants, too, are being exposed to damagingly high levels of acetaminophen?
If acetaminophen can harm the fetus during pregnancy, when the baby has the protection of the mother’s liver, as well as the placenta, what if it’s even more harmful when given directly to infants?
But evidence has accumulated that, when taken during pregnancy, acetaminophen may increase the risk that children will develop asthma or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The elevated risk in most studies is small, and whether the drug itself is really to blame is debatable. But considering that more than 65 percent of pregnant women in the United States use acetaminophen at some point during their pregnancy, the number of children with problems stemming from it could be substantial.
The odd thing about acetaminophen is that even after decades of widespread use, no one knows precisely how it blunts pain. But it has earned a reputation for strange side effects. Experiments indicate that it impedes people’s ability to empathize. It may undercut the brain’s ability to detect errors. When taken after a vaccine, it may suppress the immune system. Why might the drug affect both asthma and A.D.H.D. rates? Scientists have variously speculated that it could tweak the immune system during pregnancy, or disrupt hormones, or change growth factors in the developing brain. In short, no one knows.
Acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in America. There are more than 600 medicines that contain acetaminophen, including over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription (Rx) medicines. Below is a list of some common brand-name medicines, some forms of which contain acetaminophen.
Some Common Over-the-Counter Brand Name Drugs That Contain Acetaminophen
Saint Joseph® Aspirin-Free
TYLENOL® Brand Products
*And store brands
Some Common Prescription Drugs That Contain Acetaminophen (or APAP)
TYLENOL® with Codeine
*And generic drugs