THE use of mild painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen during pregnancy could cause health problems in baby boys, scientists have warned.
Women who took more than one painkiller simultaneously or who took them during the second trimester had an increased risk of giving birth to sons with undescended testicles, or cryptorchidism – a condition known to be a risk factor for poor semen quality and testicular cancer in later life, a study found.
The researchers, from Denmark, Finland and France, said mild painkillers might be partly to blame for the increase in male reproductive disorders in recent decades.
In the study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, scientists looked at more than 2000 pregnant women and their newborns.
Of the individual painkillers, ibuprofen and aspirin quadrupled the risk of cryptorchidism, while simultaneous use of more than one painkiller during the second trimester increased the risk 16-fold.
Dr Henrik Leffers, senior scientist at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, who led the research, said: “If exposure to endocrine disruptors is the mechanism behind the increasing reproductive problems among young men in the Western world, this research suggests that particular attention should be paid to the use of mild analgesics during pregnancy, as this could be a major reason for the problems.”
Women who took the drugs for more than a two-week period were found to have the highest risks during the study.
“Scientists have been concerned for some time about chemicals that the mother may be exposed to during pregnancy having the potential to cause reproductive problems in male babies,” said Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield.
“However, there are relatively few concrete examples, and much of the work to date has been theoretical. That makes these studies somewhat alarming, as I doubt that anyone would have suspected that common painkillers would have these effects.”