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Does childhood anesthesia link to learning disability?
New research study raises possibility
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, have found that children who require multiple surgeries under anesthesia during their first three years of life are at higher risk to develop learning disabilities later.1
Several studies have suggested that anesthetic drugs might cause abnormalities in the brains of young animals. The results of this human study are reported in the April 2009 issue of the journal Anesthesiology.
The research team, led by Robert Wilder, MD, found that although one exposure to anesthesia was not harmful, more than one exposure almost doubled the risk that the children would be identified as having a learning disability before they were 19. The risk also increased with longer durations of anesthesia.
Randall Flick, MD, a co-author of the study, said, "It's very important for parents and families to understand that although we see a clear difference in the frequency of learning disabilities in children exposed to anesthesia, we don't know whether these differences are actually caused by anesthesia."
Wilder says, "The problem is that anyone who underwent an anesthetic also had surgery. It's unclear whether it's the anesthetic, the physiological stress of surgery, or perhaps the medical problems that made surgery necessary that are responsible for the learning disabilities."
According to another one of the co-authors, more studies are planned.