Are you pregnant, and in pain? Consider seeking advice from your doctor on a suitable pain reliever. A new review by scientists has warned against using any drug that has paracetamol as a pain killer during pregnancy.
The review, jointly written by 13 scientists and signed by 91 others globally, was published in the Nature Reviews Endocrinology journal. It states that acetaminophen, commonly known as paracetamol in Kenya, should be shunned because it affects foetal development.
Paracetamol is an active ingredient in over 600 medications. It comes in different brand names depending on the country, including Tylenol, Panodil, Pinex and Pamol. Some of the Kenyan examples include Panadol and Sonamol.
In 2017, the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya (PSK) conducted research that sought to find out medical practices during pregnancy. They found that paracetamol was the most used self-prescribed painkiller by pregnant women.
“Since it is difficult to determine effects on the foetus before marketing new drugs due to ethical reasons, most drugs are contraindicated in pregnancy. However, pregnancy itself often necessitates medication. A careful balance between the risks of medications to the foetus and the benefits to the mother is therefore necessary,” noted the PSK study.
In an email, David Kristensen, an associate professor of cell biology and physiology at the University of Copenhagen who co-authored the paper, said that an increasing body of evidence supported by research on human epidemiology, animal and in-vitro studies back their stance on paracetamol use in expectant mothers.
“Prenatal exposure to paracetamol may alter foetal development, increasing the risks of neuro-developmental, reproductive and urogenital disorders.
“This is concerning as the rates of reproductive disorders and neuro-developmental disorders, such as ADHD and ASD, have been increasing over the last 40 years. Paracetamol is one of the most commonly used medications during pregnancy and its use has been increasing,” explained Prof Kristensen.
Studies show that up to 65 per cent of women in the United States and 50 per cent of women worldwide use paracetamol.
“Because the use is so common, if APAP (paracetamol) is responsible for even a small increase in individual risk, it could contribute substantially to these disorders in the overall population,” he added.
The researchers did not explicitly say what stage of pregnancy is most affected by taking such painkillers. Prof Kristensen said this is difficult since babies’ reproductive development starts in the early stages and the neurodevelopmental growth begins later.
He also told Healthy Nation that most of the studies reviewed revealed that women who took paracetamol longer and at higher doses were highly susceptible to experiencing adverse effects on their babies.
“This is why we suggest that women take paracetamol only when indicated and at the lowest possible dose and for the shortest time possible. We also recommend that women consult their physician if they are uncertain about use. We are concerned about women who use it for long durations,” he explained.
Expectant women mostly take painkillers to relieve backaches, knee pain and headaches. The scientists also reveal that about 30 per cent of the women in the study used paracetamol to reduce fever.
“Women should consult their doctor in case of high fever, as taking paracetamol, in that case, may be the low-risk option, since high fever during pregnancy poses a risk to foetal development,” Prof Kristensen said.