Pregnant women need to be careful with any medications they take, to avoid problems with their growing baby. For pain relief, aspirin and dipirona are not considered safe for pregnant women. Acetaminophen has generally been advocated as a good alternative, but some studies in the last few years have suggested that acetaminophen during pregnancy may not be totally safe either.
The studies of concern have suggested that taking this medication during pregnancy may increase the risk of hyperactivity or asthma in their child. However, the conclusions are not yet proven, and it is thought these complications tend to be more at higher doses of acetaminophen, or taking it for a long period.
How this potential risk was discovered
Sixteen years ago, scientists at King’s College London noted that childhood asthma rates had doubled from 1980 to 2000. No one knew why, but there were several theories. One fact the scientists noted was that the use of acetaminophen also increased greatly during this same time period. This was because aspirin had fallen out of favor for pregnant women and children, due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
So the British researchers suggested a possible link between childhood asthma and acetaminophen. Various studies followed, some of which supported the connection. But medication studies during pregnancy are very difficult to carry out. For a study to give 100% reliable results, 2 groups of pregnant women would need to be studied. One group would receive the drug being tested (say, acetaminophen), and the other half would take a placebo. But this sort of study is not considered ethical, since it would place an unborn child under an uncertain and potentially dangerous risk.
So the studies do not give absolute conclusions. The best studies we have were published this year, in 2016. A Norwegian study concluded that use of acetaminophen during pregnancy increased the risk of childhood asthma by 13%. In August, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found that mothers who had used acetaminophen during mid-pregnancy had a 31% increased risk of having a child who was hyperactive.
An approach for pregnant women and acetaminophen
The bottom line conclusion: aspirin and dipirona are not safe to take during pregnancy. But a woman needs something to take if needed, and despite the studies casting doubt about the safety of acetaminophen, U.S. doctors are NOT advising pregnant women to avoid all acetaminophen. Sometimes medication is necessary to reduce fever, as untreated fever during pregnancy can lead to other consequences, including premature birth. So pain and fever during pregnancy do require a medication option.
The experts still consul that acetaminophen is the safest option, but to take the possible lowest dose to achieve results. Especially avoid taking acetaminophen on a prolonged basis if other options are available. For example, for backache: acupuncture, meditation, or even better, massages from a helpful partner are recommended, and without side effects.
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