Risks of Anesthesia for Young Patients

Recent studies done on young children that have undergone anesthesia have returned some worrisome results. The research indicated that children who received anesthesia while they were under the age of three had later suffered several types of learning disabilities. Some of the disabilities have included a deficiency in learning, language, and certain behaviors. A lack of abstract reasoning and ADHD were also found at a higher rate among children under three who were exposed to anesthesia.

In order to further research the subject, scientists studied the effects of anesthesia on young rhesus monkeys. It took the monkeys much longer to learn basic concepts, and after they learned them they were much less accurate. Several years after this study was done, scientists found that the same rhesus monkeys still had trouble with learning comprehension.

Some scientists say that it is too early to get overly worried about anesthesia’s possible effects on young children. There is a chance that the culprit might be the medical problems for which children receive anesthesia. Most of the researchers agree that more studies need to be done to determine how anesthesia affects the brains of children and what kinds of anesthesia are to blame. At the moment, there is not enough evidence to deny anesthesia to young children who require it. Most young children who undergo anesthesia cannot wait because the known benefits outweigh the potential risks.

As a parent, one option can be to discuss with your pediatrician putting off certain surgeries until after the age of three. This can work with minor surgeries such as the removal of tonsils, ear tubes for chronic ear infections, dental procedures, hernia repairs, and circumcisions.

In the meantime, several organizations, including the FDA, SmartTots, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, are conducting more research into the matter. Some of the questions they are looking into include what forms of anesthesia are affecting the brains of small children, and how long they can affect the children. Some of the types of anesthesia included in studies to date have been ketamine and halothane.

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