Babies at risk from painkillers during pregnancy

Common painkillers taken during pregnancy have been linked to sex organ problems in baby boys

Taking common over-the-counter painkillers in pregnancy has been linked to abnormalities in baby boys that could lead to fertility problems later in life, researchers have warned.

Surveys show more than half of women in Europe and the US take painkillers during pregnancy. Scientists are concerned that the use may be responsible for the rise in male fertility problems seen in Western countries over the last 50 years.

Global sperm counts have fallen by over half and rates of testicular cancer and abnormalities of the reproductive organs have soared.

The research found that prolonged use of ibuprofen, paracetamol, or aspirin, or a combination of the drugs, increased the likelihood that baby boys would be born with undescended testicles.
 
The condition, known medically as cryptorchidism, is known to contribute to poor semen quality and cancer in later life. Sometimes surgery may be necessary to treat the condition. About eight in every 1,000 baby boys are affected to some degree.

Pregnant women in Britain are generally advised to avoid ibuprofen and aspirin in pregnancy, but paracetamol is considered safe. Although the study authors only baby boys, they said there may also be changes in baby girls linked to painkiller use.

The researchers found that many pregnant women underestimated their use of painkillers because they did not consider them proper medicines, commonly using them to treat headaches and muscle aches.

While experts suggest further research is needed, Dr Leffers, senior scientist at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, who led the research said: ‘Women may want to try to reduce their painkiller use during pregnancy.’

Prof Richard Sharpe, from the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Sciences Unit at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Pregnant women who are alarmed by these studies should note the following: it is only prolonged use that has an effect, and taking the occasional painkiller for a headache will have no adverse effect. The stress, worry and sickness from not taking something for a bad headache may be worse for the mother and baby.’

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