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Anesthesia before three doesn’t affect IQ, study indicates, though it may cause other problems

YOUNG_ anesthesia in young children

New research looking into the effects of anesthesia in young children has found that intelligence is not affected by the procedure, although repeated exposure may affect other brain functions. (Photo: vgajic/Istock.com)

New research has found that despite concerns there is no evidence to suggest that giving anesthesia to children under the age of three years can affect intelligence, although other aspects of brain development may be affected by repeated exposure.

A new study follows a 2016 statement issued by the US Food and Drug Administration which warned that repeated or prolonged sedation (lasting over three hours) before age 3 may affect brain development.
However, as this warning was based largely on data from animals, which may or may not apply to children, researchers at the Mayo Clinic set out to research further.
The team looked at 997 people born from 1994 through 2007 and grouped them according to how many times they had been anesthetized before turning three. Of the group, 206 had two or more exposures to anesthesia; 380 had one; and 411 had none, with ear, nose and throat surgeries the most common reasons for anesthesia.
The researchers then looked at medical records and brain function testing at ages 8-12 or 15-20, as well as reports from parents to assess the children’s behavior and brain function later in life.
They found that intelligence, memory, and other measures of brain function were similar among all three groups.
However, when looking at those who had been exposed to anesthesia several times as small children, this group showed modest declines in fine motor skills, such as ability to draw figures with a pencil, and how quickly they processed information when reading.
The parents of these children also reported more learning and behavioral problems, such as difficulty reading, behaviors in line with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, breaking rules, aggression, anxiety, or social withdrawal.
In addition, parents whose children had anesthesia just once before their third birthday reported more problems with executive functions — the skills which help with memory, impulse control, planning and flexibility — however not with other behaviors.
“For the majority of kids undergoing surgery, the results overall are reassuring,” says lead author David Warner.”About 80 percent of kids who need surgery under age 3 only need one, and it’s relatively brief.”
Several other studies have also suggested that a single anesthetic is not associated with any significant harm.
“Although we do have some concerns about the children who are receiving multiple anesthetics, it’s important to note that our results don’t allow us to conclude that anesthesia itself is causing problems,” Dr. Warner says, adding that other factors, such as the reasons that make surgery necessary in the first place, could contribute. “However, the fact that we found some problems in some of these children means that research in this area needs to continue, including further analysis of our data.”
Dr. Warner added that in the meantime the benefit of surgery outweighs the risk in most cases, although potential problems and concerns should always be discussed between parents and surgeons.
The results were published in the journal Anesthesiolog. (-Relaxnews)

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