In November 2002 the media reported on a paper published in Thorax, showing a statistical association between women who took paracetamol every day in the late stages of pregnancy and the incidence of wheezing in their children when about three years old. The following notes are a summary and comment on the study.
- The study showed an association between women who took paracetamol every day in the late stages of pregnancy and the incidence of wheeze in young children between 30-42 months of age, and between frequent aspirin use in pregnancy and wheezing in children under 6 months of age.
- There is no evidence that paracetamol use was causing the wheezing. Even if it were to be the cause it accounts for only 1% of childhood wheezing i.e. 99% of childhood wheezing is caused by other factors.
- The study did not investigate why the mothers were taking paracetamol every day, and the reason for such heavy medication could be a possible cause of their children's wheezing.
- The study showed no association between paracetamol use in pregnancy and eczema in the offspring showing there was no effect on the immune system to explain the incidence of wheezing.
- Frequent paracetamol use in early pregnancy or moderate use in late pregnancy was not associated with any increased risk of wheezing.
- The authors emphasise that paracetamol remains the analgesic of choice during pregnancy. As with all users, pregnant women should not take paracetamol on a long term daily basis unless under the supervision of a doctor.
Paracetamol use in pregnancy and wheezing in early childhood; 2002; S O Shaheen et al; Thorax; 2002; 57; 958-963.