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Tylenol, Pregnancy, and Autism Spectrum Disorder

You'll find acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol, in medicine cabinets across the United States. 

Current studies have revealed that acetaminophen might not be as safe as providers thought. In fact, over the last ten years, evidence has mounted which suggests a link between acetaminophen exposure in utero and an increased risk for autism spectrum disorder.
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You'll find acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol, in medicine cabinets across the United States. It's not just Tylenol. The ubiquitous pharmaceutical is a common ingredient in OTC medications, from cough and cold medicines to allergy pills.

For decades, acetaminophen has been a go-to for physicians, and doctors worldwide consider it the safest pain and fever reducer for pregnant women. In fact, according to a 2019 study published in Jama Psychiatry, over 65% of women in the United States have used acetaminophen during pregnancy. 1

 

What's the Deal with Acetaminophen?

The US Food and Drug Administration lists acetaminophen in Pregnancy Category B. Pharmaceuticals put in this category have not shown a risk to fetal development. But there's a problem with these categorizations: a lack of research that includes pregnant women as subjects.

According to a 2021 New York Times Magazine article by Kim Tingley, "A 2014 review published in Frontiers in Pediatrics found that from the late 1960s through August 2013, just 1.3 percent of clinical trials focusing on how drugs move through the body included pregnant participants." 2

Tingley concludes that being excluded results in pregnant women who "must take such medications anyway, but without any data to say what dose is safest and most likely to work — a significant deficit, given that pregnancy causes the body to metabolize drugs differently." 2

Is Acetaminophen Safe During Pregnancy?

Current studies have revealed that acetaminophen might not be as safe as providers thought. In fact, over the last ten years, evidence has mounted which suggests a link between acetaminophen exposure in utero and an increased risk for autism spectrum disorder.

A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that a fetus that comes into contact with acetaminophen has a 30% increased risk of developing early childhood neurological development disorders, including a 20% increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder. 3

While the FDA has not released a statement about acetaminophen's safety, scientists and researchers encourage pregnant women to talk to their doctors before starting any medications.

 

What is the Link Between Acetaminophen and Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The placenta acts as a barrier between the fetus and mother. This barrier is essential in the filtration and exchange of nutrients between a mother and a developing fetus.

Acetaminophen can cross the placental barrier and enter the developing child's bloodstream. In fact, a recent study found that acetaminophen resides in a fetus's system much longer than scientists initially thought.

Studies suggest that acetaminophen may interfere with fetal development and the production of endogenous hormones, specifically glutathione, which plays a significant role in developing signaling pathways in the brain.3

According to naturopathic pediatrician Erika Krumbeck, "Tylenol is actually somewhat famous for depleting glutathione." Krumbach further notes the numerous studies which show the relationship between glutathione levels and autism spectrum disorder. 4

What to Know: The Facts About Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

The Mayo Clinic defines autism spectrum disorder as a condition "related to brain development" in early childhood. ASD has a range of symptoms that impact perception and socialization. 5

While a small number of children with autism spectrum disorder appear to hit typical milestones throughout their infancy, most children show signs of ASD in their first year of life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common symptoms of autism spectrum disorder fall into two main categories: challenges with socialization and restricted or repetitive behaviors and interests.

Other symptoms may include uncommon learning and attention styles and differences in mobility.

Communicating and Interacting with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The CDC reports that about 1 in 44 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the United States. 6 Many of these children often have difficulty adjusting to social interactions and find communicating with others challenging.

Some examples of typical communication and social characteristics exhibited by children with autism spectrum disorder include
They avoid eye contact.
They don't respond to their name when they are nine months old.
They lack the facial expressions most nine-month-olds regularly use to express themselves, such as happy, sad, angry, or surprised.
They lack interest in playing interactive games.
They don't use gestures as most children do in their first year.
They do not notice or do not have an interest in playing with other children.
They do not understand the emotions of the people around them.

Restricted or Repetitive Behaviors with Autism Spectrum Disorder

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, restrictive and repetitive behaviors distinguish autism spectrum disorders from other conditions "defined by problems with social communication and interaction only." 6

Some of these behaviors may include

  • They experience echolalia (the constant repetition of words and phrases).
  • They have obsessive interests.
  • They have a specific routine they follow.
  • They focus on the parts of an object rather than the objects as a whole.
  • Every time they play with a toy, they play with it in the same way.
  • They have intense sensory reactions. They will powerfully react to something's sound, taste, feel, or taste.

Other Common Comorbidities with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Most children with autism spectrum disorder will experience other typical co-occurrences. Some of these characteristics may include

  • They are anxious and worry all the time excessively.
  • They experience stomach and other gastro problems.
  • They may suffer from seizures.
  • They might display hyperactive or impulsive behaviors.
  • They may display inattentive behaviors.
  • They have unusual emotional reactions.
  • They may experience delays in language, movement, and learning skills.

ASD is a spectrum, and no two people are alike. ASD symptoms range from mild to severe. While there are common symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder, not every child will experience the symptoms listed above.

Furthermore, while there is no cure for autism spectrum disorders, studies have shown promising results regarding early intervention.

Why File a Lawsuit?

Despite the mounting evidence showing the dangers of acetaminophen to a developing child in utero, manufacturers and medical professionals continue to promote it as a safe and effective product without disclosing the risks.

Powerful corporations who put profit over people must be held accountable. Families and children who suffer because of poor business ethics and policies deserve compensation.

If you took acetaminophen while pregnant and your child has been diagnosed with autism, you might be entitled to financial compensation.

Contact an AVA legal expert to see if you qualify to file a lawsuit.

Our experienced legal team promises to work tirelessly to defend your rights and fight to ensure you receive the financial compensation you deserve.

Page Sources

  1. Ji, Yuelong, et. al. Association of cord plasma biomarkers of in utero acetaminophen exposure with risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder in childhood. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(2):180-189. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.3259. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2753512. Accessed May 16, 2022.
  2. Tingley, Kim. Why is good medical advice for pregnant women so hard to find? The New York Times Magazine; October 21, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/21/magazine/pregnancy-advice-doctors.html. Accessed May 16, 2022.
  3. Masarwa, Reem, et. al. Prenatal exposure to acetaminophen and risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic spectrum disorder: a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression analysis of cohort studies. American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 187, Issue 8, August 2018, Pages 1817–1827, https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwy086. Accessed May 16, 2022.
  4. Krumbeck, Erika. Just say “NO” to Tylenol (Acetaminophen linked to autism?). Naturopathic Pediatrics; July 15, 2013. https://naturopathicpediatrics.com/2013/07/15/just-say-no-to-tylenol-acetaminophen-causes-autism/. Accessed May 16, 2022.
  5. Autism Spectrum Disorder. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352928#:~:text=Autism%20spectrum%20disorder%20is%20a,and%20repetitive%20patterns%20of%20behavior. Accessed May 16, 2022.
  6. Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html. Accessed May 16, 2022.

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