A Systematic Review of the Link Between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Acetaminophen: A Mystery to Resolve

Cureus. 2022 Jul 18;14(7):e26995. doi: 10.7759/cureus.26995. eCollection 2022 Jul.


The purpose of this study is to review the published papers investigating maternal acetaminophen (AP) use during pregnancy and its effect on the offspring's neurodevelopment, particularly autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter analgesic and antipyretic considered safe in pregnancy. Recent studies have found an association between acetaminophen and immune system alterations like asthma and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. We used online databases (PubMed/Medline/PubMed Central, Science Direct, and Google Scholar) to search the studies relevant to our topic. We screened the papers by titles, abstracts, and then full-text availability. The screened articles were checked for eligibility using relevant quality assessment tools for each study design, extracting and analyzing the data. We finalized 30 studies after the screening; 14 were ineligible. Our final selection included 16 high-quality papers - 13 prospective cohort studies, two review articles, and one meta-analysis. We found a wide range of neurodevelopmental outcomes in our data collection. So, we included autism spectrum disorders, intelligent quotient (IQ), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), isolated language, attention and executive function, communication, behavior, and psychomotor development. All studies showed an association between acetaminophen use and listed neurodevelopmental outcomes. Long-term use, increased dose, and frequency were associated with a stronger association. We extracted collective evidence from 16 studies suggesting acetaminophen's role in developing adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. It is urgent to do more research on this association before pregnant women can be cautioned about the precise use of acetaminophen.

Keywords: acetaminophen; asd; autism; autism spectrum disorder; autism spectrum disorders; paracetamol; tylenol.

Publication types

  • Review