Growing Concerns: The Link Between Tylenol Use in Pregnancy and Autism Risk

A number of studies suggest there may be a link between taking these drugs while pregnant or nursing with a higher rate of ADHD and autism in children. It has been a historically common practice for OB/GYNs to recommend the use of acetaminophen-based drugs, like Tylenol, during pregnancy or postpartum pain relief. Over the past few years, more parents and healthcare workers have begun to wonder if there is a link between taking acetaminophen-based drugs during pregnancy, or shortly after birth, with the increasing number of children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

One such case is Karleen Degroodt of Huntington Beach, California. Karleen was an ICU nurse during a pregnancy with her son, Devyn. Due to the stress of being on her feet all day during her pregnancy, Karleen took acetaminophen several times per week to help with the pain. While there existed no complications during her pregnancy and family history of spectrum disorders, , Devyn’s doctor diagnosed him with autism just before his third birthday. Now, because he is nonverbal, Devyn must communicate with others through an iPad necessitating additional and sometimes costly accommodations. Given her medical background and experience, Karleen has wondered if the cause of her child being born with autism was the acetaminophen.

More research into acetaminophen/autism link

The FDA released a drug safety communication in 2015, which essentially called for additional research into how acetaminophen might impact a fetus during pregnancy. In 2019, Johns Hopkins released a study that was funded by the National Institutes of Health related to this imperative. This study supported results found in earlier research that linked the use of acetaminophen during pregnancy to an increase in both ADHD and ASD. Based on these findings, the Johns Hopkins study also called for additional research to confirm the findings.

As research and studies began consistently suggesting potential risks, Nature’s Review Endocrinology released a consensus from numerous scientists, public health officials, and clinicians, all of which urged the FDA to update its Drug Safety Communications recommendations.

However, detractors remain, and without robust study from the international scientific community, the FDA has been reluctant to make any formal recommendations or establish new guidelines for use and labeling.

Ongoing legal battles

As a result of the uncertainty surrounding the potential links between acetaminophen and incidents of ADHD or autism, the matter is now proceeding to court. Due to the volume of cases concerning this issue, a multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) was established and certified in October 2022. This certification means that all Tylenol-related lawsuits filed anywhere in the United States will now be transferred to and consolidated in New York, allowing plaintiffs to coordinate and share information with one another. It’s expected that there will be over 100,000 claimants filing suit in this MDL.

If you feel that your child was injured by the use of acetaminophen-based drugs during pregnancy or while nursing, you should consult with a lawyer. They can help you determine if you have legal standing to pursue a claim and guide you on how to best proceed.