Anesthesia in Young Children is not Linked to Developmental Problems

Having a young child with any type of health problem or illness can be very stressful for parents and family members that are required to make important decisions on the behalf of the child. As if the stress of the health condition is not enough, parents also worry that a procedure requiring their child to be put under anesthesia can have negative effects on them later in life. People often worry anesthesia can cause developmental problems that will affect their child’s readiness for school and cognitive problems. A recent study, however, may prove that anesthesia in young children is not linked to developmental problems

The study, performed in Canada, examined research on 11,000 pairs of siblings, 370 of which both siblings had been exposed to general anesthesia at a young age, and about 2,350 pairs of which only one sibling had ever been exposed to general anesthesia. The most common procedures that the children had had were related to ears, mouth, and throat or the musculoskeletal system. Researchers for the study examined data collected from teachers that accessed the development of the children before they started school at the age of five or six.

The study did not show a link between developmental problems and children that were exposed to anesthesia. Young children that had been under anesthesia due to a procedure, were no more likely than their sibling to experience any issues, developmentally. Some children that were exposed to anesthesia did have a slightly higher risk of developing health problems and other issues compared to their siblings, but the difference were so small, researchers could not say this was due to chance.

“This study adds to the increasing data that for the vast majority of cases anesthesia does not have an impact on school readiness and this should be added to the fact that we increasingly think in the majority of cases it does not have an impact on cognition and many other aspects of neurodevelopment,” said Dr. Andrew Davidson of Royal Children’s Hospital and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

“The findings of the current study should reassure parents of young children who require anesthesia for surgical procedures,” said lead author Dr. James D. O’Leary. Knowing that anesthesia in young children is not linked to developmental problems should give parents and family members some peace of mind when making decisions regarding the health of their children. The pros of surgery under anesthesia outweigh the cons. If someone you know is looking to learn more about anesthesia and how to prepare for a surgery, visit our website at