Mayo Clinic researchers have found that children who require multiple surgeries under anesthesia during their first three years of life are at higher risk to develop learning disabilities later. Several studies have suggested that anesthetic drugs may cause abnormalities in the brains of young animals. This is the first study in humans to suggest that exposure of children to anesthesia may have similar consequences. The finding is reported in the current issue of the journal Anesthesiology.
The research team, led by Robert Wilder, M.D., found that although one exposure to anesthesia was not harmful, more than one exposure almost doubled the risk that the children would be identified as having a learning disability before they were 19. The risk also increased with longer durations of anesthesia.
“It’s very important for parents and families to understand that although we see a clear difference in the frequency of learning disabilities in children exposed to anesthesia, we don’t know whether these differences are actually caused by anesthesia,” says Randall Flick, M.D., a co-author of the study.
“The problem is that anyone who underwent an anesthetic also had surgery,” says Dr. Wilder. “It’s unclear whether it’s the anesthetic, the physiological stress of surgery, or perhaps the medical problems that made surgery necessary that are responsible for the learning disabilities.”
Below is a link to an edited youtube video with Dr. Flick and Dr. Wilder.