Anesthesia Raises Risk of ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder more prominent in children exposed to anesthesia

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental disorder related to attentiveness and overactivity. Though there is no single cause of ADHD, exposure to anesthesia may increase risk.

Based on previous medical records, the study found that young children who have been exposed to general anesthesia two or more times before the age of three have an increased chance of developing with ADHD.

In fact, they had more than double the incidence rate of ADHD than children who have had no exposure.

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David Warner, MD, a Mayo Clinic pediatric anesthesiologist and investigator on the observational study, became interested when other studies revealed that anesthesia caused changes in the brains of young animals.

"Those studies piqued our interest. We were skeptical that the findings in animals would correlate with kids, but it appears that it does," said Dr. Warner.

The study used the results of a previous study by looking at the medical records of children born between 1976 and 1982 in Rochester, Minn. The researchers then investigated who of those had developed some form of learning disability or ADHD.

Dr. Warner notes that these findings do not mean that anesthesia causes ADHD.

"This is an observational study, a wide range of other factors might be responsible for the higher frequency of ADHD in children with multiple exposures. The findings certainly do suggest that further investigation into this area is warranted."

7.3 percent of the children with no exposure to anesthesia had ADHD. Children with only a single exposure were relatively the same. However, 17.9 percent of those with two or more exposures had ADHD - even after the researchers adjusted for gestational age, sex, birth weight and other health conditions.

Out of the 5357 children involved in the study, there were 341 total cases of ADHD.

The study was published in the February 2 edition of Mayo Clinic Proceedings and was funded by the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Mayo Clinic Center for Translational Sciences Activities, the National Institutes of Health and the Rochester Epidemiology Project.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 4, 2012
Last Updated:
October 4, 2012