Is There a Link Between Tylenol®, Autism and ADHD?

Is There a Link Between Tylenol®, Autism and ADHD?Taking medications like Tylenol while you are pregnant may increase the risk of your child developing autism or AD/HD, according to multiple studies. Lawsuits are being filed around the country against Johnson & Johnson, which manufacturers Tylenol, as well as pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart, which supply generic acetaminophen. A motion has been filed to consolidate all the individual cases into a multi-district litigation (MDL). Cunningham & Mears is currently reviewing potential cases in and round the greater Oklahoma City area. If you were told it was safe to take Tylenol or a generic version of acetaminophen while pregnant, and your child developed Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), contact us today.

What is autism and ADHD?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) “is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave.” Most symptoms show up during early childhood, but a person may be diagnosed at any time. Symptoms can differ, but common signs include challenges communicating with other people, repetitive behaviors, and “restricted” interests. Per the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 1 in every 44 eight-year-old children is diagnosed with some form of autism, though it is more prevalent in boys.

ADHD “is a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often continues into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.” Risk factors may include genetics, maternal drug use, environment toxins, and premature birth.

The truth is, as much data as we have, these medical conditions are still largely a mystery to science. Though doctors can identify and treat both conditions, causes are hard to quantify. The one thing that we do know is that each year, a greater number of children are diagnosed with autism and diagnosed with ADHD each year

The data surrounding Tylenol and conditions like autism and AD/HD

There have been studies done over the past decade (at least) that explored a potential link between acetaminophen use during pregnancy, and children born with autism or ADHD. In 2015, the FDA issued a safety communication about using pain relievers like Tylenol, and the potential risk to fetal development. At the time, the FDA said there was too little (“limited”) research and data to make a definitive recommendation. Instead, they “urge[d] pregnant women to always discuss all medicines with their health care professionals before using them.”

Things have changed since then, however.

In 2021, researchers in Spain published a study that found “children prenatally exposed to acetaminophen were 19% and 21% more likely to subsequently have borderline or clinical ASC and ADHD symptoms compared to non-exposed children” [emphasis ours].

While this is the most recent study, it is not the only one with these findings:

  • 2014: JAMA Pediatrics publishes an article finding “maternal acetaminophen use during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk for [hyperkinetic disorders] HKDs and ADHD-like behaviors in children.” The researchers point out that acetaminophen has been “endocrine-disrupting properties,” which could affect neurodevelopment.
  • 2016: The International Journal of Epidemiology publishes a study showing that prenatal acetaminophen use “was associated with a greater number of autism spectrum symptoms in males and showed adverse effects on attention-related outcomes for both genders.” They find that the risk increases with more exposure.
  • 2018: Analysis of studies involving almost 133,000 mother/child pairs – this time published in the American Journal of Epidemiology – finds “acetaminophen use during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk for ADHD, ASD, and hyperactivity symptoms.” In fact, the data shows a “20% higher risk of autism and a 30% higher risk of ADHD for children who had prolonged exposure to acetaminophen in the womb,” per the Cleveland Clinic.
  • 2019: The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health publishes research in JAMA Psychiatry, saying their “findings suggest in utero exposure to acetaminophen is associated with increased risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder in children and warrant additional investigations.”
  • 2021: Analysis published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences states that “a growing number of epidemiological studies suggests that relative risks for these disorders increase by an average of about 25% following intrauterine paracetamol [acetaminophen] exposure.”

All of these studies beg the question: if the data were there, why did doctors keep saying it was fine to take Tylenol while pregnant?

It could be because some scientists think there are greater risks than ADHD or autism. In that 2015 safety communication, the FDA says “Severe and persistent pain that is not effectively treated during pregnancy can result in depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure in the mother.” A 2021 article published in Molecular Autism states that fevers can increase the risk of neurodevelopment disorders, which can include conditions like ADHD and autism.

If I took Tylenol while pregnant and my child has autism/ADHD, what can I do?

If you took Tylenol or a generic form of acetaminophen while you were pregnant, and your child has been diagnosed with autism or ADHD, you have legal options. Lawsuits are already being filed, and Cunningham & Mears can help you reach the best decision for your family. You may wish to file an individual product liability claim against Johnson & Johnson (or whichever company manufactured the generic version), or against the pharmacy which sold you the medication. You may also wish to join a class action or the MDL. We can discuss these options during your free initial consultation.

If you are a parent or legal guardian of a child who was exposed to acetaminophen in the womb, and has since been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or ADHD, Cunningham & Mears wants to hear from you. Please call our injury attorneys in Oklahoma City at 405-232-1212 or fill out our contact form.