Memory Problems Linked to Anesthesia in Young Kids

Even one surgical procedure involving exposure to anesthesia can increase the risks of language and abstract reasoning delays for children younger than 3, a new study coming out in the September issue of Pediatrics found.

The authors of the study examined 2,868 children born between 1989 and 1992 in western Australia. Some 321 of these children had been exposed to anesthesia in result of having undergone surgical or diagnostic procedures before age 3. These children were 87 percent more likely to show language disabilities and almost 70 percent more likely to have cognitive problems at age 10, compared to their non-exposed peers, the researchers found.

"We can’t determine if the cause is due to anesthesia, surgical stimulus or the medical condition. It could be another factor entirely. We just know there’s a difference,” Dr. Caleb Ing, assistant professor of pediatric anesthesiology at Columbia University Medical Center and lead author of the study told CNN.

Parents are never cautioned about the dangers of anesthesia, Dr. Cheryl Gooden, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, noted at HealthDay. But this study remains inconclusive and doesn't necessarily mean this is the case.

Research on baby rodents indicates that development of the brain can be stunted by anesthesia, but it is too early to say if anesthesia has the same effect on a child's brain, U.S. News reported: "The new study was observational, so it is impossible to tell whether these deficits were caused by the anesthesia, the actual surgery or even the underlying reason for the procedure."

"For parents who are worried about their long-term risks, it’s worth asking the doctor about the necessity of the operation. But in most cases, the surgery will be medically necessary — doctors don’t typically recommend procedures for infants unless they have to — and the benefits of surgery will outweigh the still unproven risks of anesthesia," Time reported.

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