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    New Study Links General Anesthesia to Developmental Problems

    By Jennifer Huddleston, staff writer     

    A new study conducted by researchers at Columbia University found that children under the age of 3 who were exposed to general anesthesia during surgery had almost twice the risk of behavioral or developmental problems later in life. [1]

    Lead study author Lena S. Sun, M.D., a Columbia University professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics, reported the study’s findings at the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) annual meeting on Oct. 21, 2008.
    [2]

    Researchers studied 625 children under the age of 3 who had undergone surgery while under general anesthesia to repair a groin hernia and compared the group to 5,000 randomly selected, age-matched children who did not have the surgery.
    [3]

    The study revealed that 30 children (4.8 percent) from the group that was exposed to anesthesia were diagnosed with a developmental or behavioral disorder within two years, compared to 75 children (1.5 percent) from the control group. After adjusting for factors such as age, birth weight, gender, medical care utilization and race, researchers concluded that the anesthesia-exposed children were almost twice as likely to have a developmental or behavioral disorder.
    [4]

    Researchers say that the findings are not conclusive and that parents should not be alarmed. According to Sun, an estimated 4 million children receive anesthesia each year for surgery and diagnostic procedures such as MRI and CAT scans.
    [5]

    “I don’t think [the new study] should deter any parent from taking their child in for needed surgery because in the end, that’s going to be much worse than any potential problems,” Sun said.
    [6]

    The study, researchers said, does have its limitations. Because the study relied on past history and billing codes, researchers do not know the details of the disorders the children developed.
    [7] The limited demographic group involved in the study also may have influenced the outcome. [8] Further, it is possible that children exposed to anesthesia may have had other issues that predisposed them to developmental and behavioral problems. [9]

    Sun said the findings show the need for additional studies of more children over a longer period of time.
    [10] In a new study, Sun will compare children who had received anesthesia prior to their fourth birthdays with siblings who have never been exposed to anesthesia. The anesthesia-exposed children will then be given neuro-developmental testing between the ages of 6 and 10. [11]

    Prior studies on rats have shown that anesthesia can harm their developing brains. One study found that rats given a combination of three anesthetic medications had continual learning and memory problems. However, not enough is known yet to determine if the effects seen in rats will also appear in humans and, if they do, whether they will have long-lasting impacts.
    [12]


    [1]  “General Anesthesia Tied to Developmental Woes in Kids.” HealthDay. Oct. 21, 2008.
    [2] “Kids’ General Anesthesia Linked to Behavioral Disorders.” MedHeadlines. Oct. 23, 2008.
    [3] “General Anesthesia Tied to Developmental Woes in Kids.” HealthDay. Oct. 21, 2008.
    [4]  Ibid.
    [5]  Kalb, Claudia. “Kids and Anesthesia.” Newsweek. Oct. 21, 2008.
    [6]  Ibid.
    [7]  Ibid.
    [8]  “Kids’ General Anesthesia Linked to Behavioral Disorders.” MedHeadlines. Oct. 23, 2008.
    [9] Rauscher, Megan. “Anesthesia May Up Kids’ Behavior Problems.” Yahoo! News. Oct. 21, 2008.
    [10] “Kids’ General Anesthesia Linked to Behavioral Disorders.” MedHeadlines. Oct. 23, 2008.
    [11]  Kalb, Claudia. “Kids and Anesthesia.” Newsweek. Oct. 21, 2008.
    [12]  Ibid.



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