Anesthesia may up kids’ behavior problems

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study hints that young children who are exposed to general anesthesia may be put at significantly increased risk of having behavior problems or language or other “developmental” problems.

These findings, reported today at the American Society of Anesthesiologists annual meeting, are “provocative but preliminary and I don’t think they should cause undue alarm at this time,” Dr. Lena Sun told Reuters Health.

“Parents should not keep their children from having necessary surgery because of this concern,” advised Sun, from Columbia University, New York, who was involved in the study.

Sun and colleagues studied a group of children born between 1999 and 2000 and covered by the New York State Medicaid program, and identified 625 children younger than age 3 years who were given general anesthesia for hernia surgery.

When compared to a random sample of 5,000 age-matched children with no history of anesthesia, the anesthesia-exposed children were about twice as likely to be subsequently diagnosed with a developmental or behavior disorder.

Specifically, 30 anesthesia-exposed children (4.8 percent) were diagnosed with developmental and behavior disorders during follow up, compared with 75 unexposed children (1.5 percent).

Sun emphasized that anesthesia-exposed children may have had other issues that predisposed them to developmental and behavior problems “or indeed the exposure to anesthesia may be an issue that needs to be a concern.”

Sun did say that the excess risk of developmental and behavior disorders in the anesthesia-exposed children cannot be completely explained by health factors like infection, or premature birth or low birth weight, or by demographic factors.

Still, Sun cautions that “this is not something we should act on at the moment. This study basically suggests that we really need to do a more rigorous study to look at this question, which actually our group is in the process of doing.”

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