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Painkiller use when pregnant may not cause childhood asthma as previously thought, new research suggests

Some studies have reported that taking paracetamol when pregnant can mean your child is more likely to develop childhood asthma. A new study, which also looked at other types of painkillers, challenges these findings.

The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, included a large group of 500 000 women and their children aged 2–6 years old.

Firstly, researchers found that children whose mothers used painkillers when pregnant were more likely to have asthma. This was expected, based on results from other research.

However, the researchers then compared children in the study to their brothers and sisters. There was no difference in asthma risk between siblings when the mother had taken painkillers when pregnant with one child but not the other.

This means that taking painkillers during pregnancy is not likely to cause childhood asthma. Instead, the link could be due to a third factor that increases the chances of both childhood asthma and painkiller use. For example, women who are more likely to ask for painkillers may also be more likely to seek healthcare for their children, which could increase the chances of childhood asthma being diagnosed.

It’s difficult to say why some children develop asthma and others don’t, but this study suggests that painkiller use whilst pregnant does not directly cause the condition. More long-term studies are needed to investigate other possible causes, and to find out if childhood asthma can be prevented. 

Read the article abstract.