Multiple Use of Anesthesia Linked to Learning Disabilities in Children


A study performed by the Mayo Clinic has linked multiple exposures of general anesthesia in children to learning disabilities later on their life. The study reviewed records of 5,357 children born between 1976 and 1982 in Olmstead County, Minnesota, and tracked them until age 19.

According to the review, one dose of general anesthesia has no effect, but two doses increased the chances of learning disabilities by 59 percent. Three or more exposures increased the chances by 260 percent.

Pediatric anesthesiologists have noted neuro-degeneration and learning disabilities in laboratory animals when given multiple doses of anesthesia, but don’t believe parents should overreact to the news. They believe the research may point to an association between anesthesia and learning disabilities rather than a direct link.

Some parents, whose children have undergone multiple doses, as well as researchers, point to the theory that conditions for learning disabilities were pre-existing in these children. It has also been noted that the drugs given to the children in Olmstead County are not commonly used anymore. Halothane and nitrous oxide have been replaced by sevoflourine. This drug is fast acting and leaves the body much more quickly than halothane or nitrous oxide. Doctors are also more conservative about putting children in positions where they would need general anesthesia than they were when the Olmstead County group was children.

Every year children are given anesthesia for different types of surgery. While the drugs they are given may have changed, and it is hoped they are much better, those who go under multiple times may still be in danger of developing learning disabilities for the simple reason that small bodies are not meant to take in those kinds of drugs. Children’s Hospitals around the world are continuing to work on human studies to give parents a clearer answer.