Repeated anesthesia in infants linked to learning difficulties

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When an infant suffers a birth injury, the baby may need numerous treatments in order to mitigate the negative health consequences. Some of these treatments may be minor and not have any long term impact on the child. Other circumstances may require numerous surgeries and other interventions. A recent study examined the correlation between general anesthesia and educational and behavioral metrics later in life.

The researcher discovered that children who had undergone general anesthesia more than one time before the age of two years, were more than twice as likely as the control group to have learning disabilities before turning 19-years-old.

Interestingly, children who had undergone anesthesia only one time as an infant did not show any increase in the prevalence of learning disabilities. They had the same rate of learning disabilities as the control group that had never undergone general anesthesia. The study also showed that there was no correlation between behavioral issues and the number of times the child underwent anesthesia.

The researchers were careful to point out that at this point they were not able to identify any causal relationship between multiple administrations of general anesthesia and increased risk of learning difficulties. It could be that infants that require multiple surgeries have other issues that lead to the variation. They do not recommend forgoing surgeries for infants, but do suggest that parents and doctors be cognizant of the correlation and take it into consideration when making health care decisions for babies under two.

Source: New Scientist “Infant anaesthesia link with learning difficulties,” Andy Coghlan, Oct. 20, 2011

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