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Study - Parents Warned Against Repeated Anesthesia Use In Young Children

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:20 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Anesthesia, Nitrous Oxide, Children's Health, Surgery

Anesthesia before the age of four may create learning disabilities.


IMAGE SOURCE:  iStockphoto/ anesthesia in young patient


Children who have anesthesia more than once before the age of four may have a higher risk of developing learning disabilities, according to new research out of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Researchers are not certain if the disabilities come from having the anesthesia, or if the child’s illness might make them more susceptible to learning disabilities.

While one exposure reportedly did not up the risk, two exposures increased the risk by 59 percent. Three or more exposures to anesthesia more than doubled  (2.6) the risk of developing a learning disability.

Speaking to US News, lead author Dr. Robert Wilder says, "We don't want to alarm parents.  We have an association here between kids who received two or more anesthetics in surgery and an increase in learning disabilities, but we don't have clear causality that it was the anesthetics that caused the learning disabilities."

The researchers looked at the medical records of more than 5,000 children born in Olmsted County, Minnesota between the years of 1976 and 1982 to come to their conclusions.

Being put under by general anesthesia may impact the developing brain, researchers theorize, particularly when the children received multiple anesthetics.   

In animal studies, exposure to anesthesia and sedatives such as ketamine, nitrous oxide, pentobarbital, diazepam, isoflurane, halothane, propofol, was associated with a diminished ability to retain learned behaviors.

The type of anesthesia they received included nitrous oxide or laughing gas or halothane, no longer available in the U.S.  

In the U.K. a study found children undergoing dental surgery experienced cardiac arrhythmias under halothane. Drugmaker Wyeth–Ayerst wrote a warning letter to health practitioners about this finding in 2000.

The research appears in the April issue of Anesthesiology.

US News reports on a study last year that found a doubling of behavioral or developmental problems in children who had hernia surgery under the age of 3.

What should parents do?  The researchers advise to have surgery if it is necessary, however hold off on any unnecessary surgery or operations than can wait until they are older. #

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