Painkillers in pregnancy may affect baby’s future fertility

Taking painkillers during pregnancy could affect the fertility of the unborn child in later life, research suggests. The study says these drugs may also affect the fertility of future generations, by leaving marks on DNA.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, add to a growing body of evidence that certain medicines, including paracetamol, should be used with caution during pregnancy.

Researchers stress that advice for pregnant women remains unchanged. Current guidelines say that, if necessary, paracetamol — also known as acetaminophen — should be used at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. Ibuprofen should be avoided during pregnancy.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh looked at the effects of paracetamol and ibuprofen on samples of human fetal testes and ovaries. Ovaries exposed to paracetamol for one week had more than 40 per cent fewer egg-producing cells. After ibuprofen exposure, the number of cells was almost halved. Experts say this is important because girls produce all of their eggs in the womb, so if they are born with a reduced number it could lead to an early menopause.

Painkiller exposure during development could have effects on unborn boys too, the study found. Testicular tissue exposed to painkillers in a culture dish had around a quarter fewer sperm-producing cells after exposure to paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Dr. Rod Mitchell, who led the research at the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, said: “We would encourage women to think carefully before taking painkillers in pregnancy and to follow existing guidelines — taking the lowest possible dose for the shortest time possible.”

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