Anesthesia Exposure Before Age 2 May Lead to Learning Disabilities
Hundreds of babies and toddlers across North Texas receive general anesthesia for routine procedures ranging from ear surgery to hernia repair every year. One may be safe, but researchers at Mayo Clinic have found more than one exposure to general anesthesia can be linked to learning disabilities later in childhood.
After removing factors related to existing health issues, we found that children exposed more than once to anesthesia and surgery prior to age 2 were approximately three times as likely to develop problems related to speech and language when compared to children who never underwent surgeries at that young age.
Among the 5,357 children in the cohort, 350 underwent surgeries with general anesthesia before their second birthday and were matched with 700 children who did not undergo a procedure with anesthesia. Of those exposed to anesthesia, 286 experienced only one surgery and 64 had more than one. Among those children who had multiple surgeries before age 2, 36.6 percent developed a learning disability later in life. Of those with just one surgery, 23.6 percent developed a learning disability, which compares to 21.2 percent of the children who developed learning disabilities but never had surgery or anesthesia before age 2. Researchers saw no increase in behavior disorders among children with multiple surgeries.
Mayo Clinic advises parents considering surgery for a child under 2 to speak with your child’s physician. While this study’s findings are worth considering, they should not alter parents’ decision-making related to surgery on their young children until the medical community finds more sufficient information – especially if delaying needed procedures may cause further problems. For example, if a child continues to have ear infections, delaying ear surgery might cause hearing problems that could create learning difficulties in school later.