Effect of anesthesia on children could increase risk of ADHD

The administration of anesthesia for surgery has to be handled with care. There are many risks involved, especially the potential that the patient will become hypoxic. When not enough blood gets to the brain, the result can be a serious brain injury.

This risk can be particularly acute for the very youngest patients in Florida and throughout the nation. All aspects of the underlying science not yet fully understood. But a recent research study called attention to the concern that exposing young children to too much general anesthesia may make those children more likely to develop ADHD or other learning disabilities.

The study was done on 5,357 children who were all born in Rochester, Minnesota. Researchers found that kids who had undergone multiple surgeries (two or more) by the age of 2 were much more likely to develop ADHD by the time they turned 19 than kids who had only one surgery. In fact, those who had multiple surgeries were twice as likely to encounter those symptoms as those who had only one.

Many doctors who study the issue believe that drugs used for general anesthesia can have a negative effect on the neurons in babies’ brains. These neurons are constantly regenerating and forging new connections, and a degree of pruning of old neurons is normal in this process. But when a very young brain has been overly exposed to chemical agents used in anesthesia, too many nerves can die off.

When that happens, the research suggests, the result can be ADHD or other learning problems later in life.

Source: Time, “Can Anesthesia Raise the Risk of ADHD?” Alice Park, Feb. 2, 2012