Fertility and pregnancy * Babies and children * Healthy living

Painkillers in pregnancy linked to male infertility

Painkillers in pregnancy linked to male infertility OTC meds risk for baby boys

Popular painkillers taken during pregnancy could increase the risk of giving birth to sons with infertility problems, new research suggests.

Women who took a combination of more than one mild painkiller during pregnancy, or who took them during the second trimester of pregnancy, had an increased risk of giving birth to sons with undescended testicles, a study found.

The condition, known as cryptochidism, is a known risk factor for poor semen quality and testicular cancer later in life, and affects around one in 20 boys in the UK.

Danish researchers questioned more than 2,000 pregnant women in Denmark and Finland about their use of painkilling drugs during pregnancy.

Women who used more than one painkiller at the same time - such as paracetamol and ibuprofen - were seven times more likely to give birth to sons with some form of cryptorchidism, compared to women who took no painkillers.

The second trimester of pregnancy seemed to be "particularly sensitive" to the effect of painkillers. Painkillers used at this time more than doubled the risk of the condition, the study found.

When it came to individual painkillers, ibuprofen and aspirin increased the risk of cryptorchidism by around four times, whereas paracetamol doubled the risk.

Taking more than one painkiller during the second trimester time increased the risk 16-fold.

In general, the NHS advises pregnant women not to take any medications when pregnant, but if necessary, paracetamol is considered safe for short term use. Aspirin and ibuprofen are also allowed, but only under specific conditions.

Research on rats suggest that painkilling drugs may act as endocrine disruptors, and inhibit testesterone production in unborn boys when the male organs are developing, said the researchers.

Dr Henrik Leffers, senior scientist at 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 may want to try to reduce their analgesic use during pregnancy,” said Dr Leffers. “However, as biologists this is not something we can advise women about.

"So we recommend that pregnant women seek advice from their physician before using mild analgesics and in general follow the advice to use as little medicine during pregnancy as possible.”

The findings are published in the journal Human Reproduction.

This article was published on Tue 9 November 2010

Image © Karen Roach - Fotolia.com

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