Does Anesthesia Affect Childhood Development? New Research Says No.

Posted on 04/17/19 by Allied Anesthesia

Undergoing serious medical procedures can be stressful at any age, but when you’re a parent and the patient is your young child, it’s particularly worrying. Aside from concerns about the nature of the procedure itself, many parents are hesitant to expose children to general anesthesia for fear that the medicine might have a negative impact on their child’s developing brain. Good news: it won’t.

A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that exposure to anesthesia does not inhibit a child’s brain development. The study followed nearly 10,000 sibling pairs between the ages of 5 and 6 who had Early Development Instrument (EDI) data completed prior to the study. The EDI assesses a child’s readiness and ability to learn based on five different factors:

  1. Physical health and well-being
  2. Social knowledge and competence
  3. Emotional health and maturity
  4. Language and cognitive development
  5. Communication skills and general knowledge

In more than 2,000 pairs (of the original 10,000+), one but not both siblings had undergone a surgery requiring general anesthesia. Upon evaluating the pairs, it was determined that there were no developmental differences between siblings who had been exposed to general anesthesia and those who hadn’t.

While previous studies using rat models suggested that anesthesia could impact the developing brain, these new findings make it clear that those results are specific to the species and not applicable to human children.

Even with these encouraging results, surgery or medical procedures requiring general anesthesia in young children is stressful for parents. We get it—that’s why our award-winning team includes board-certified pediatric anesthesiologists. Many of our doctors are parents themselves, so they know how important it is to give our pediatric patients the best available care.

From pediatric cardiothoracic services to complex pediatric pain blocks to rare conditions, our pediatric anesthesiologists handle more than 15,000 cases per year—and in every one, our utmost concerns are ensuring our little patients’ safety and easing any discomfort or pain they might have. Learn more about our pediatric specialists.


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