The article on the Fox 4 Kansas City website about a Missouri woman suing Walmart for failing to warn about the dangers of prenatal acetaminophen exposure piqued my interest. Yet, like a lot of stories, that on their face seem simple, there's a lot more to the story than the television station lays out.

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The story on Fox 4 says that a Missouri woman has filed a lawsuit against Walmart because the retailer failed to warn about the dangers of prenatal exposure to acetaminophen. The filing also alleges Walmart's failure to warn women about the dangers of the over-the-counter pain reliever caused permanent injuries and significant pain and suffering.

According to Fox 4, the woman is suing because she had used the pain reliever regularly during pregnancy multiple times a week to relieve headaches. Something she wouldn't have done if she knew published scientific studies demonstrated that prenatal exposure to acetaminophen can cause problems for the fetus. Specifically that children exposed to the pain reliever in utero can be born with autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Which her child was diagnosed with at five years old.

The Fox 4 story leaves a lot of details out and can leave the reader, like me, with the perception that Walmart's being sued because they sold the drug and didn't put a warning on the shelf. That left me wondering if Walmart was the right entity to sue over this. I mean what about her doctors? Shouldn't they have warned her? What about doing a little bit of her own research about what could harm her fetus?

At first, it made me think this woman, and perhaps ambulance-chasing lawyers, want to make some money from a big box store.  But no, just like there was more behind McDonald's getting sued for an absurd amount of money over someone spilling a cup of their hot coffee, there's more to the lawsuit if you go digging.

According to The Wichita Eagle, the brand of acetaminophen the woman used was Walmart's store brand, Equate. So, even though someone other than Walmart manufactured the drug, it still is marketed and branded by the retailer.

The label on the bottle doesn't specifically address any specific health concerns a pregnant woman or new mom might be concerned about while taking the pain reliever. The Eagle's article says the label says pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should consult a health professional before use.

The Eagle article also explores just how risky taking acetaminophen while pregnant is. They cite a consensus statement in Nature Reviews Endocrinology in 2021 that warned exposure to acetaminophen while in the womb can increase neurodevelopmental risks. While the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists disputes that finding and says acetaminophen is one of the only safe pain relievers for a pregnant individual.

Did I mention the Eagle article also talks about a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology from 2018 that found the use of the pain reliever during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of ADHD, ASD, and hyperactivity symptoms?  While also quoting Dr. Salena Zanotti with the Cleveland Clinic who believes that acetaminophen is still the safest drug to take during pregnancy. The doctor also points out that having an untreated fever while pregnant is riskier than taking acetaminophen.

My takeaway from this is, Walmart's not being sued for just selling a product and not putting a warning about its use on the shelf. They're being sued because the woman bought their brand of acetaminophen and she believes it harmed her child. As for the notice about talking to a healthcare professional before use if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. Walmart believes it's enough of a warning and complies with all laws. I'm not sure a jury will agree.

Finally, it seems there could be some specific risks to acetaminophen use while pregnant or breastfeeding, but it still might be safer than many other pain relievers. Whether or not it's worth the risk, that's probably something you should discuss with your doctor.

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