Painkillers in pregnancy may affect babies' future fertility

Painkillers in pregnancy 'harm fertility of the unborn'

Painkillers in pregnancy 'harm fertility of the unborn'

While a single day of exposure to human doses of paracetamol led to a 17 percent decrease of sperm-producing cells, a week of exposure saw nearly one third fewer cells.

Testicular tissues exposed to paracetamol or ibuprofen in a culture dish had around a quarter fewer sperm-producing cells, the scientists said. It is believed that paracetamol or ibuprofen may leave inheritable marks (known as epigenetic marks) that make changes to the structure of DNA, passing on the effects of the painkillers to future generations.

According to the research led by the University Of Edinburgh, taking painkillers during pregnancy could affect the fertility of the unborn child in later life.

Painkillers' effects on germ cells are likely caused by their actions on molecules called prostaglandins, which have key functions in the ovaries and testes, the researchers found. Rod Mitchell, who led the research, 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".

The amount was the same as two to seven days of a woman taking the drug in pregnancy.

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. They can take paracetamol, but ideally at the lowest possible dose, for the shortest possible duration.

Many studies from recent years have started to examine the potential long-term effects of taking certain painkillers during pregnancy. The study appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Previous studies with rats have shown that painkillers administered in pregnancy led to a reduction in germ cells in female offspring. These are the cells which later develop into eggs in females or sperm in males.

"Women should not be alarmed by the results of this study".

Dr Channa Jayasena, a senior lecturer in reproductive endocrinology at Imperial College London, said: 'This latest study raises the possibility that paracetamol and ibuprofen may reduce the growth of the germ cells which later become eggs or sperm in unborn babies. The team, which included experts from Denmark, Finland and France, studied more than 2,000 pregnant women and their babies, and had concluded that women who used more than one painkiller simultaneously, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, had a 7-fold increased risk of giving birth to sons with some form of undescended testes, or cryptorchidism, compared to women who took nothing.

Dr Patrick O'Brien, consultant obstetrician and spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said definitive conclusions could not be drawn and further research was needed. "If this doesn't treat the pain, they should to speak to their GP, midwife, or obstetrician".