Using Software to Untangle the Connection Between Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy and ADHD in Newborns


Acetaminophen has long been considered a safe painkiller for pregnant women, but new studies have called this into question, and more research on the subject is required. Image Credit: Flickr user Jeff Golden

Acetaminophen has long been a go-to pain reliever for pregnant women. Because other common over-the-counter painkillers have been linked to birth defects and miscarriages,1 doctors often advise their patients to stick to acetaminophen during pregnancy. The drug has few side effects for pregnant mothers and can help treat a wide range of conditions, including pain, fever, allergies, the cold, the flu and insomnia. As a result about 53% of pregnant women report taking acetaminophen at 18 weeks, and 42% report using it at 32 weeks.2

However, a collection of new studies has associated acetaminophen use during pregnancy with childhood development of ADHD . Scientists hypothesize that acetaminophen can impact hormone metabolism in the liver, leading to hormonal changes that may affect fetal development.

So far, the researchers’ conclusions remain disputed and a causal link has yet to be established. As a result, the FDA hasn’t changed its official stance about the safety of acetaminophen for pregnant women. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University responded by conducting an experiment in mice, concluding that there was no link between acetaminophen and ADHD in animal models. However, even they cautioned that their findings may not have direct clinical applications.3

Because of the widespread use of acetaminophen among pregnant women and the uncertainty surrounding the safety of the drug, it is essential for researchers to reach a scientific consensus on the subject as quickly as possible so that treatment recommendations be modified if necessary. Researchers who are working on this problem can use modern software to speed research efforts on this topic.

Facilitating the Free Flow of Information

As research efforts get underway, it will be important for scientists to premise their initial experiments on previous findings, building on what they already know about acetaminophen safety and ADHD instead of starting from scratch. Studies of acetaminophen safety and efficacy have been going on for decades, so it may be the case that some of the initial experiments researchers need to conduct have already been run in the past. To avoid experiment duplication, scientists need to be able to determine whether a study has been done and, if so, extract the data that is pertinent to their current project. Storing all previous data electronically, so that it is easy for scientists to quickly access old research results, will keep researchers from having to waste time sifting through pages of old lab notebooks, trying to locate information collected months or even years before.

Since serious research on the molecular mechanisms and environmental  factors underpinning ADHD began much more recently, it is even more important for researchers to make the most of the limited data they already have on the subject. By carefully scrutinizing previous findings on the causes of the disorder, scientists may be able to determine whether the hormonal disruption hypothesis is plausible, or whether there could be another reason for the association between acetaminophen use and ADHD in the context of pregnancy. Software that stores all previous data electronically makes it easier to approach the research in this more holistic way.

Automating Standard Lab Procedures

Modern software can help improve research quality and efficiency by automating basic lab processes wherever possible. There are a few ways that taking advantage of this capability can keep the right research moving forward at a steady pace:

  • Generating consistent and repeatable data


One of the keys to determining who is right—the researchers who found an association between acetaminophen and ADHD, or the scientists who observed no relationship—is to verify their findings with repeated experiments in the future. As scientists further explore this field and generate more results supporting one side or the other, they need to make sure that their experiments can also be repeated, thereby demonstrating that their conclusions on the matter are trustworthy. Automating non-value added tasks and standardizing procedures can reduce the margin of error and make results more reliable and repeatable, leading to stronger conclusions about the potential for causality.

  • Exploring multifaceted topics


When research involves several distinct subjects—like acetaminophen, ADHD and pregnancy—it can sometimes be helpful to separate them out, running controlled experiments that focus specifically on each one before integrating the data to untangle the relationship between them. Ideally, these experiments could be run simultaneously in order to cut down on project completion time, but it can be hard for a single scientist to manage that. With software that automates simple tasks, it is easier to run multiple experiments at the same time, so researchers can reach conclusions faster. That decreases the overall amount of time spent on research, which is ideal for scientists who are exploring pressing issues that can directly affect the lives of millions of families.

  • Freeing up time to collaborate with subject experts


Research into ADHD, acetaminophen and pregnancy covers a wide range of specialized areas, from psychology to obstetrics to endocrinology to pharmacology, so it can be helpful for scientists to consult with specialists who have particular expertise in a topic of interest. Instead of focusing their attention on manual procedures, researchers who use automation software are free to dedicate more time to these interactions. Having the opportunity to draw on many different perspectives when interpreting data can help ensure that they ultimately come to a reasonable conclusion about the relationship between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and neural development.

By making it easier to access information, collaborate with peers and automatically run lab processes, modern technology can speed research efforts on controversial issues, like whether or not acetaminophen is a safe pain relief option for pregnant women. Based on the conclusions they draw from their studies, scientists may soon be able to reach a verdict on this question and modify current treatment advice if necessary.

BIOVIA ONE Lab is a multifaceted software solution that can improve research efficiency and productivity in both large and small research organizations. Whether your group is developing drugs or striving to untangle their safety and efficacy profiles, this software can help you find answers more quickly, without compromising research quality. Contact us today to learn more about this technology and our other software offerings.

  1. “Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in pregnancy: impact on the fetus and newborn,” May 2012,
  2. “Acetaminophen during pregnancy may increase risk of hyperactivity in kids,” August 15, 2016,
  3. “Is There a Causal Relation between Maternal Acetaminophen Administration and ADHD?” June 13, 2016,