Young brains & anaes­the­sia: Big study sug­gests min­i­mal risks

Malta Independent - - HEALTH -

Anes­the­sia dur­ing early child­hood surgery poses lit­tle risk for in­tel­li­gence and aca­demics later on, the largest study of its kind sug­gests.

The re­sults were found in re­search on nearly 200,000 Swedish teens. School grades were only marginally lower in kids who’d had one or more com­mon surg­eries with anes­the­sia be­fore age 4, com­pared with those who’d had no anes­the­sia dur­ing those early years. Whether the re­sults ap­ply to sicker chil­dren who have riskier surg­eries with anes­the­sia is not known. But the re­searchers from Swe­den’s Karolin­ska In­sti­tute and doc­tors else­where called the new re­sults re­as­sur­ing, given ex­per­i­ments in young an­i­mals link­ing anes­the­sia drugs with brain dam­age.

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies of chil­dren have been rel­a­tively small, with con­flict­ing re­sults. The new find­ings, pub­lished Mon­day in JAMA Pe­di­atrics , don’t pro­vide a de­fin­i­tive an­swer and other re­search is on­go­ing.

The study au­thors and other doc­tors say the harms from post­pon­ing surgery must be con­sid­ered when eval­u­at­ing any po­ten­tial risks from anes­the­sia in young chil­dren.

The most com­mon pro­ce­dures in the study were her­nia re­pairs; ear, nose or throat surg­eries; and ab­dom­i­nal op­er­a­tions. The re­searchers say the op­er­a­tions likely lasted an hour or less. The study did not in­clude chil­dren with other se­ri­ous health problems and those who had more com­plex or risky op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing brain, heart and can­cer surg­eries.

The re­search in­volved about 33,500 teens who’d had surgery be­fore age 4 and nearly 160,000 who did not.

School grades at age 16 were less than half a per­cent lower on av­er­age in teens who’d had one child­hood surgery with anes­the­sia ver­sus the no-surgery group. Av­er­age grades were less than 2 per­cent lower among teens who’d had two or more surg­eries with anes­the­sia.

The re­searchers also looked at IQ tests given to Swedish boys at age 18 upon join­ing the mil­i­tary. Scores were about the same for those with one early surgery and the non-surgery group; scores were less than 3 per­cent lower in boys with three or more early surg­eries.

The re­searchers, led by Karolin­ska’s Dr. Pia Glatz, noted that fac­tors other than anes­the­sia ap­peared to have a much greater im­pact on aca­demics and in­tel­li­gence mea­sures, in­clud­ing mothers’ ed­u­ca­tion level.

A jour­nal ed­i­to­rial says the re­sults mean it is un­likely that early anes­the­sia poses a long-term risk. The study is “re­as­sur­ing for chil­dren, par­ents and care­givers and puts the is­sue of anes­thetic-re­lated neu­ro­tox­i­c­ity and the de­vel­op­ing brain into per­spec­tive,” the ed­i­to­rial says.

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