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Anesthesia in Youngest Kids May be Linked to Learning Disabilities
Date:3/24/2009

Study found having 'gone under' more than once by age 3 seemed to raise risk for problems

TUESDAY, March 24 (HealthDay News) -- Children who have had anesthesia two or more times by the age of 3 may be at a higher risk of developing learning disabilities later, new research suggests.

Although this is the first human study to indicate such an association, it's still unclear if the anesthesia is the culprit, or if some other factor is at play.

"We don't want to alarm parents," said Dr. Robert Wilder, lead author of a study appearing in the April issue of Anesthesiology. "We have an association here between kids who received two or more anesthetics in surgery and an increase in learning disabilities, but we don't have clear causality that it was the anesthetics that caused the learning disabilities."

"Even if I knew for a fact that anesthesia might be increasing the risk for learning disabilities, my advice would still be, if your kid needs to have surgery done, they're better off having the anesthetic," added Wilder, who is a consultant in anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and an associate professor of anesthesiology at the Mayo Medical School. "Of course, you don't want to submit your kid to any unnecessary surgical or medical procedure, but that would have been my advice before studying this."

Prior animal studies have suggested that anesthesia drugs might affect the developing brain.

One study last year found that youngsters under the age of 3 who had hernia surgery showed almost twice the risk of behavioral or developmental problems later compared to kids who hadn't had surgery. Researchers suspect that exposure to general anesthesia during these operations might have played a role in the jump in risk.

Other studies have demonstrated a similar link. Still, the authors of this study said it's unclear if anesthesia really affects this risk in children.


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