Is Anesthesia Dangerous for Children?

Exposure to anesthesia could put kids at risk for ADHD, learning disabilities

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Anesthesia could have a detrimental effect on very young children, recent research suggests. Children exposed to anesthesia could have learning disabilities, thinking problems or ADHD.

Scientists at the recent International Anesthesia Research Society annual meeting discussed the finding that in rhesus monkeys, exposure to anesthesia over 24 hours lasted in brain-function problems. According to the researchers, these results could mean that anesthesia can interfere with proper brain development in early life.

"If you're concerned about exposure to anesthesia, talk to your doctor."

The growing body of evidence shows that early exposure to anesthesia could be a real concern, said Dr. Vesna Jevtovic-Todorovic, professor of anesthesiology and neuroscience at the University of Virginia Health System.

This finding could cause real problems for parents and patients because surgery is rarely optional for infants and young children.

Delaying or canceling needed surgery for children because of this concern could do even more harm, warned Dr. Randall Flick, associate professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic. He presented his own study at the meeting suggesting that multiple exposures to anesthesia before age 2 could be a significant risk factor in the development of ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Doctors should not change their approach to surgeries in children unless more research backs up this anesthesia-ADHD link, researchers said.

But if a surgery can be delayed until the child is age 4 without ill effects, that would be best, doctors said. And doctors should minimize the time children spend under anesthesia, Dr. Jevtovic-Todorovic said.

Findings presented at research meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 22, 2011
Last Updated:
July 20, 2011