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No Link Found Between Birth Anesthesia and Learning Issues

Whether delivery was vaginal or C-section doesn't matter, study finds

TUESDAY, Aug. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to anesthesia during a Cesarean delivery doesn't increase the risk of learning disabilities in children, says a new study.

"We found that the incidence of learning disabilities was equal between children who were delivered vaginally and those who were delivered via C-section but with general anesthesia," study leader Dr. Juraj Sprung, an anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic, said in a news release from Mayo.

Sprung and his colleagues analyzed the medical and school IQ records of 5,320 children born between 1976 and 1982 to mothers in Olmsted County, Minn. Not only did they find that anesthesia use during delivery posed no threat to the babies, but the researchers also determined that babies whose mothers had received an epidural anesthetic (which numbs the lower part of the body) were much less likely to have learning disabilities later in life.

"The risk was reduced by about 40 percent compared to children delivered vaginally and those delivered via cesarean section but without general anesthesia," Sprung said.

The findings from the study are preliminary and shouldn't prompt any changes to medical practice, said co-author and Mayo anesthesiologist Dr. Randall Flick.

"What we've found is an association between two things," he said. "One is the way a child was delivered, either vaginally or under regional or general anesthesia. The other is a difference in the incidence of learning disabilities as the child attended school. It's important to recognize there may be other factors that impact learning disabilities."

A report on the study is in the August issue of Anesthesiology.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about cesarean section.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, July 2009

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