Does Taking Tylenol During Pregnancy Cause Autism?

Does Taking Tylenol During Pregnancy Cause Autism?

Tylenol (generically known as acetaminophen) is a commonly-prescribed pain reliever drug. It's used to treat fever and mild to moderate aches and pains. Acetaminophen is often offered as a safer alternative to NSAID pain medications, such as Aspirin and Ibuprofen. However, recent studies have shown that Tylenol may contribute to the development of autism spectrum disorder and ADHD in children who were exposed to the drug in-utero. 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are different types of developmental disorders that may begin in childhood and continue throughout a person's adult life. Both often present with a complex constellation of symptoms that may be difficult to detect early on. 

There is currently a multidistrict litigation (MDL) targeting retail distributors of Tylenol and generic acetaminophen drugs in response to the growing body of evidence suggesting that these medications can have undesired consequences on unborn children. 

If you or a family member received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or ADHD following prenatal exposure to Tylenol, we recommend you seek out an experienced mass tort lawyer. An attorney skilled in handling mass tort cases can help you understand your legal options surrounding participation in the pending Tylenol multidistrict litigation.

Can Tylenol Use During Pregnancy Cause Autism or ADHD?

There exists no proof that Tylenol directly causes autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or any other condition. However, the active ingredient in this drug may play a role in determining the risk for these developmental disorders. 

There is no way to completely prevent neurodevelopmental disorders from occurring. However, an understanding of the current scientific research suggests that by avoiding substances that have a known negative effect on a developing child, the risk of adverse outcomes can be lessened to some degree. 

Understanding these risk factors can have a profound effect on public health and a consumer's ability to receive compensation if a drug company exhibits a lack of warning regarding a product's potentially undesirable consequences. 

Studies Show That Taking Tylenol During Pregnancy Increases Risk

While the causes of autism spectrum disorder are still not completely understood, we now know that certain risk factors can make having a child with autism more likely to occur. Some of these risk factors are genetic, such as gene mutations. Others are associated with exposure to certain substances, such as insecticides, during pregnancy. 

Approximately 65% percent of pregnant women in the United States will use Tylenol at some point during their pregnancy. The drug is often recommended as a low-risk option to treat fever, aches, and pains, which may be associated with illness or symptoms of the pregnancy itself. However, this household-name medication is not without potential consequences. 

A study conducted in 2018 among over 100,000 mother-child pairs concluded that prolonged in-utero exposure to Tylenol resulted in a 20% increase in the likelihood of developing autism spectrum disorder and a 30% increase in the case of ADHD. 

Current Research on Autism and Pregnancy

While much remains to be discovered about autism spectrum disorder, Tylenol's effects on pregnancies, and the connection between the two, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that acetaminophen may correlate with the risk of developing this disorder. 

Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism may present differently in different individuals, and no two people with autism are the same. However, certain symptoms can be grouped together to make a diagnosis. These symptoms include: 

  • Difficulty socializing
  • Delayed language skills in infants and children
  • Learning difficulties in school
  • Sudden mood changes or reactivity to stimuli

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

Like autism, ADHD is considered a type of developmental disorder. This disorder is commonly diagnosed during childhood and was once considered mostly specific to younger people. However, current research maintains that ADHD symptoms can persist throughout a person's lifetime. These include: 

  • Hyperactivity
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Excessive risk-taking behaviors
  • Increased challenges in school or work
  • Social behavioral issues

Both children and adults with ADHD and autism spectrum disorder will likely have very special needs as well as obstacles unique to them. These disorders can bring increased challenges and financial hardships to the individuals affected by them and to their parents and caregivers. Additionally, receiving a diagnosis of ASD or ADHD can often take time. There is currently no cure for either of these conditions. However, a combination of medication, specialized learning approaches, and therapy may be used to manage the symptoms. 

Can Autism Be Detected in the Womb?

Generally speaking, there is no one specific test, like a blood test, that can be used to detect autism spectrum disorder. For this reason, many people with autism do not receive a diagnosis early in life. However, some types of autism can be comorbid with certain congenital conditions, such as defects of the heart and kidneys. Recent studies have shown that using the metrics used to detect these conditions can help predict the likelihood of the child developing autism. 

Can Tylenol Cross the Placenta Barrier?

The placenta, or blood-placental barrier, is an organ that links a developing fetus to the maternal womb. This organ is responsible for transporting nutrients and waste and regulating the processes related to the baby's nutrition while inside the uterus. The current scientific understanding of how the placenta barrier functions has made understanding its relationship with pharmacology more and more important. We now know, for example, that certain medications and substances can cross the barrier and become toxic to a developing baby. 

Although Tylenol is generally considered low-risk for expectant mothers, studies have shown that acetaminophen and its metabolites can cross the placenta barrier and that these substances can be harmful or even toxic to the fetus. 

Does Tylenol Cause Birth Defects?

Given acetaminophen's proven potential to cross the blood-placental barrier, you may be wondering whether the drug has any other known adverse effects on a developing baby. There seems to be ample evidence to suggest that this pain reliever could be a risk factor for other harmful outcomes. 

The active ingredient in Tylenol is an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it can affect hormones in the human body. Healthy hormonal development is a crucial part of gestation, and disruption of healthy endocrine processes can interfere with a baby's health, leading to conditions such as: 

  • Low birth weight
  • Pre-term birth
  • Genital deformities
  • Low sperm count in boys
  • Early puberty in girls

It is still too early to know everything about the interactions between Tylenol and prenatal health. However, increased scientific studies will likely continue to reveal more about the toxicology profile of this drug. 

What Can I Take Instead of Tylenol During Pregnancy?

As with any medication, it's recommended that you speak to your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have regarding taking Tylenol or any pain reliever. Ensure that you pay attention to dosage recommendations and seek immediate medical attention if you experience any unexpected effects. 

Tylenol Autism Mass Tort Lawsuit

As of October 2022, a multidistrict litigation is being organized to bring retailers of Tylenol and generic acetaminophen to task for the adverse health risks these drugs can have on unborn children. The plaintiffs allege that retailers, including corporate giants such as Walmart, violated a duty to inform consumers of the potential dangers of in-utero exposure to acetaminophen. 

Mass Tort Litigation vs. Class Action Lawsuits

Mass tort litigation and class action lawsuits serve similar functions, although they take different approaches, which can have very different outcomes for claimants. Both serve to consolidate many cases and expedite their resolution. However, class action lawsuits generally involve groups of plaintiffs who experienced similar degrees of damage, and thus, the settlement is divided evenly between them. Mass tort cases, on the other hand, respond to claims based on severity. Therefore, someone with greater injuries or losses might expect more from a mass tort settlement than someone who sustained milder injuries. Settlements from the Tylenol autism lawsuit are expected to correspond to the severity of the autism. Autism is classified as ASD 1, the least severe; ASD 2, moderately severe; and ASD 3, the most severe. 

Compensation for Damages in the Tylenol Autism Lawsuit

It's impossible to say how much each claimant may receive as a result of a settlement in the Tylenol autism MDL. However, early projections estimate that these amounts may reach the hundreds of thousands, depending on the degree of injury. Potentially compensable damages for these claims may include: 

Economic Damages

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Cost of ongoing treatments

Non-Economic Damages

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress

If you have questions about your eligibility to participate in the Tylenol Autism MDL, speak to an experienced mass tort attorney for answers. A skilled lawyer can help you understand your legal options, including what types of compensation you may be able to receive. 

Status of the Tylenol Autism Lawsuit

Thus far, over 100 lawsuits have been consolidated as part of the Tylenol autism MDL. It is quite possible that this number will reach quadruple digits over the coming months. 

November 23, 2022 — Johnson & Johnson Named as a Defendant

Until recently, defendants named in the MDL were exclusively retailers of the product in question. Some have speculated that this is because it is often extremely difficult to target a pharmaceutical corporation in a mass tort case. Some of these retailers also distribute their own branded versions of acetaminophen drugs. However, there are now four lawsuits filed as part of the MDL that name Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of the brand name Tylenol. 

November 17, 2022 — Judge Cote Appoints Leadership in MDL

Judge Cote appoints a select group of lawyers to serve as members of the plaintiff's counsel, the plaintiff's executive committee, and the plaintiff's steering committee. 

October 5, 2022 — Lawsuits are Consolidated into a Multidistrict Litigation

Tylenol autism lawsuits have been consolidated under the presiding judge, The Honorable Judge Denise L. Cote, in the Southern District of New York. 

Were You Affected by Tylenol Use During Pregnancy?

If you believe that you or someone you love was negatively affected by unadvertised risks of Tylenol use during pregnancy, you'll likely want to know whether you have recourse to take legal action. An experienced mass tort attorney can help you understand your rights to collect damages for these losses through participation in the Tylenol multidistrict litigation that is currently unfolding. Legal Lawsuit News is your one-stop shop for receiving news about developments in mass tort cases across the country and contacting a skilled attorney who can help you learn about how this information may affect your right to compensation. 


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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