Anaesthesia unlikely to impair kids' development

accreditation
Anaesthetic machine – Google free image
Anaesthetic machine – Google free image

Anaesthesia during early childhood surgery poses little risk for intelligence and academics later on, the largest study of its kind suggests.

Results reassuring

The results were found in research on nearly 200,000 Swedish teens. School grades were only marginally lower in kids who'd had one or more common surgeries with anaesthesia before age four, compared with those who'd had no anaesthesia during those early years.

Whether the results apply to sicker children who have riskier surgeries with anaesthesia is not known. But the researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institute and doctors elsewhere called the new results reassuring, given experiments in young animals linking anaesthesia drugs with brain damage.

Read: Anaesthesia fit?

Previous studies of children have been relatively small, with conflicting results. The new findings, published in JAMA Paediatrics, don't provide a definitive answer and other research is ongoing.

The study authors and other doctors say the harms from postponing surgery must be considered when evaluating any potential risks from anaesthesia in young children.

The most common procedures in the study were hernia repairs; ear, nose or throat surgeries; and abdominal operations. The researchers say the operations likely lasted an hour or less. The study did not include children with other serious health problems and those who had more complex or risky operations, including brain, heart and cancer surgeries.

Little long-term risk

The research involved about 33,500 teens who'd had surgery before age four and nearly 160,000 who did not.

School grades at age 16 were less than half a percent lower on average in teens who'd had one childhood surgery with anaesthesia versus the no-surgery group. Average grades were less than two percent lower among teens who'd had two or more surgeries with anaesthesia.

The researchers also looked at IQ tests given to Swedish boys at age 18 upon joining the military. Scores were about the same for those with one early surgery and the non-surgery group; scores were less than 3 percent lower in boys with three or more early surgeries.

Read: Anaesthesia closer to coma than sleep

The researchers, led by Karolinska's Dr Pia Glatz, noted that factors other than anaesthesia appeared to have a much greater impact on academics and intelligence measures, including mothers' education level.

A journal editorial says the results mean it is unlikely that early anaesthesia poses a long-term risk. The study is "reassuring for children, parents and caregivers and puts the issue of anaesthetic-related neurotoxicity and the developing brain into perspective," the editorial says.

Read more:

Anaesthesia for kids – parents can relax

Is anaesthesia safe?

How to be anaesthesia fit

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
6% - 330 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
82% - 4227 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
12% - 605 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
18.09
-0.8%
Rand - Pound
20.21
-0.2%
Rand - Euro
17.74
-0.1%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.59
-0.3%
Rand - Yen
0.13
-0.1%
Gold
1,660.90
0.0%
Silver
19.03
0.0%
Palladium
2,166.50
0.0%
Platinum
864.50
0.0%
Brent Crude
85.14
-2.4%
Top 40
57,390
+0.8%
All Share
63,726
+0.7%
Resource 10
60,230
+0.7%
Industrial 25
77,400
+0.8%
Financial 15
13,796
+0.7%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE