Dangers of Anesthesia in Children
Written by Faith Anderson on August 20, 2012
Issues with Learning, Language, Abstract Reasoning, Cognition
Researchers involved in the Pediatrics study observed 2,868 children born in Australia between the years 1989 and 1992. Out of the entire group, 321 children had undergone medical procedures that required general anesthesia before they turned three years old. The doctors tested the children using direct neuropsychological tests, analyzing how well they could think, learn, remember, reason and use language. Researchers also asked the participants’ parents about any behavior issues affecting the children, including aggression or depression.
The report indicated that the group of children that was given anesthesia at a young age was more likely to suffer from learning problems, compared to the other group of children. In addition to the increased risk of language difficulties, there was also a 73% chance that the children would experience problems with abstract reasoning by the age of 10, and about 70% were more likely to have cognitive problems. Furthermore, the study found that the more times the child went under anesthesia, the higher the chance they experienced problems.
Use of Anesthetic Drugs on Children a Cause for Concern
The researchers did not have access to the children’s medical records, so they were unaware which kind of anesthesia was used and for how long. One of the most commonly-used drugs for children in that age group is halothane, which is no longer used, but medications currently being administered to children work in a similar manner. According to a pediatric anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Randall Flick, the use of anesthetic drugs on children – even the use of nitrous oxide during dental procedures – is a cause for concern. Flick did note though, that the results of this study shouldn’t cause parents to jump to conclusions, as the need for a procedure that requires anesthesia at such a young age could be the indicating factor instead of the anesthesia itself.
Doctors Fail to Warn Parents About Risks of Anesthesia in Children
As Dr. Cheryl Gooden, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said, parents are rarely cautioned about the potential risk of learning problems associated with general anesthesia. But, she also pointed out that the results of this study are still inconclusive. “This study still leaves a lot of unanswered questions,” said Gooden. “We still have to prove that the anesthetic exposure is the potential or only causative agent leading to these neurodevelopmental problems. The evidence isn’t there yet.” Ing says that just because this study shows an increased risk of problems associated with anesthesia doesn’t mean they should avoid surgical or diagnostic procedures. “There are risks associated with avoiding or delaying procedures,” said Ing. “If your child needs surgery involving general anesthesia, it is best to choose an anesthesiologist who routinely treats children.”