The safety of pediatric use of paracetamol (acetaminophen): a narrative review of direct and indirect evidence

Minerva Pediatr (Torino). 2022 Dec;74(6):774-788. doi: 10.23736/S2724-5276.22.06932-4. Epub 2022 Jul 13.


Paracetamol (acetaminophen) use during pregnancy and early childhood was accepted as safe in the 1970s, but is now a subject of considerable concern. Careful analysis shows that initial acceptance of the drug was based on the false assumption that drug interactions in babies and adults are the same, and on a complete absence of knowledge regarding the impact of the drug on brain development. At least fourteen epidemiological studies now indicate that prenatal exposure to paracetamol is associated with neurodevelopmental problems. Based on these studies, it can be concluded that prenatal exposure to paracetamol causes statistically significant risks of developmental delays, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and a subtype of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) associated with hyperkinetic behavior. In contrast, data regarding postnatal exposure to paracetamol are limited, and several factors impede a classic multivariate analysis of epidemiologic data to resolve the issue. However, circumstantial evidence regarding postnatal exposure to the drug is abundant, and includes at least three otherwise unexplained temporal relationships, data from laboratory animal studies, several miscellaneous and otherwise unexplained correlations, and a lack of alternative suspects that fit the evidence-derived profile. Based on this evidence, it can be concluded without any reasonable doubt that oxidative stress puts some babies and children at risk of paracetamol-induced neurodevelopmental injury, and that postnatal exposure to paracetamol in those susceptible babies and children is responsible for many if not most cases of ASD.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects
  • Animals
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / chemically induced
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / chemically induced
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / epidemiology


  • Acetaminophen