November 8, 2010
Painkillers Have Negative Affect On Baby Boys
Experts have warned that prolonged use of paracetamol and painkillers during pregnancy may cause health risk to baby boys.
Research suggests that drugs increase the risk of undescended testicles in male babies, which is a condition linked to infertility and cancer later in life.
Doctors already advise pregnant women to avoid taking these drugs if possible to help protect the unborn child.
Experts say the study warranted further research "as a matter of priority." However, it should not be harmful for pregnant women to take the occasional painkiller for a headache.
The National Health Society currently advises women to avoid taking medicines while pregnant, but that paracetamol is safe if used in small doses for short-term pain relief.
However, over half of pregnant women in Europe and the U.S. admit to taking mild painkillers.
Researchers from Denmark, Finland and France studied over 2,000 pregnant women and their babies.
They found that those women who used more than one painkiller simultaneously had a seven-fold increased risk of giving birth to sons with some form of undescended testes, or cryptorchidism, compared to those who took nothing.
The second trimester appeared to be a particularly sensitive time.
Any analgesic use at this point in the pregnancy was linked to having a doubled risk of cryptorchidism.
The painkillers Ibuprofen and aspirin were linked with a quadrupled risk.
Paracetamol taken by itself appeared to raise the risk, although this result was not statistically significant.
Simultaneous use of over one painkiller, including paracetamol, during the second trimester increased the risk 16-fold.
Taking painkillers for over two weeks at a time also appeared to raise the risk.
The researchers suspect that painkillers upset the natural balance of male hormones at work in unborn baby boys, which hinders the normal development.
Dr. Henrik Leffers, a senior scientist at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, said in a press release that "if exposure to endocrine disruptors is the mechanism behind the increasing reproductive problems among young men in the Western world, this research suggests that particular attention should be paid to the use of mild analgesics during pregnancy, as this could be a major reason for the problems."
Not all women may have accurately recalled how often they took painkillers. The researchers say their findings suggest that advice to pregnant women on analgesic use should be reconsidered.
They called for more research into the link.
Dr. Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in adrology at the University of Sheffield, told BBC: "Scientists have been concerned for some time about chemicals that the mother may be exposed to during pregnancy having the potential to cause reproductive problems in male babies."
"However, there are relatively few concrete examples and much of the work to date has been theoretical."
"That makes these studies somewhat alarming as I doubt that anyone would have suspected that common painkillers would have these effects."
"Clearly further research is needed as a matter of priority."
Dr. Basky Thilaganathan of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told BBC that the findings need to be interpreted with caution.
He said "The study shows an association rather than causation; it is entirely possible that mothers took these analgesics for an ailment, for example, a viral infection, in pregnancy that may have been the real cause for the noted problems."
About one in 20 boys in the U.K. are affected by cryptorchidism.
The research was published in the reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction.
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