Having a child with health issues can be extremely stressful on parents and guardians, especially when the young child needs to undergo a serious procedure that requires anesthesia. While parents are often apprehensive about the effects anesthesia may have on their child in the future, a new study from the Mayo Clinic shows anesthesia in young children is not linked to a lower IQ. This topic is often researched, and the results from this particular study should be reassuring to parents with children in need of surgery.
This particular study researched a group of 997 children born between 1994 and 2007, all from the same county. 380 of these children had been exposed to anesthesia once before the age of three, 206 children had been exposed to anesthesia two or more times, and 411 children had never been exposed to anesthesia in their lifetime. 42% of those studied had received anesthesia due to a surgery for medical conditions involving the ears, nose, and throat. The group was given brain function tests between age 8 and 12 and again between age 15 and 20.
When the results from this study were assessed, there were no significant differences between the three groups in the areas of intelligence, memory, and other brain functions that were measured. Children exposed to anesthesia multiple times before the age of three did, however, have a slight decrease processing speed of the brain and in fine motor coordination. These children also had a greater likelihood of behavioral problems and learning difficulties. This is evidence that anesthesia in young children is not linked to a lower IQ.
“These secondary outcomes must be interpreted cautiously,” write the researchers, “but [they] suggest … that exposure to multiple procedures requiring general anesthesia is associated with a subtle, specific pattern of injury that may have consequences for subsequent learning and behavior.” This was an observational study, which means the results that showed lower scores in motor skills and brain processing, could be unrelated to the multiple exposures to anesthesia. Dr. David Warner, the study’s lead author and a pediatric anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center in Rochester doesn’t want this study’s findings to scare parents. “The last thing I want to do is prevent any child who needs an operation from getting it because of this,” he said.
“Overall, the results are pretty reassuring,” said Dr. David Warner,“There’s not much evidence that a single exposure is associated with any harmful outcome.” Of children that need surgery before the age of three, more than 80% of children only undergo that one procedure.
While this topic is still being researched, this study should give parents some peace of mind wthat anesthesia in young children is not linked to a lower IQ. The results show that when the benefits of the surgery outweigh the risks of anesthesia, parents should be able to make the decision with less stress and worry. If you or someone you know is preparing for surgery that requires anesthesia, head to the Anesthesia Information for Surgery Patients section of our website.