Recently, concerns have been raised on the effect of general anaesthetics on children’s brain development. In a study dating back over 15 years, a study in that was published in an influential Neuroscience paper showed that young rats that were subjected to anaesthetic agents for six hours showed widespread death of brain cells associated with the impairment of learning and memory, as reported by Slate. Although this study was based on animals, it did cause concern that anaesthetic agents may cause harm towards a developing brain (more info).
A new study that was recently published in a medical journal called The Lancet (https://www.thelancet.com/) has provided the Anaesthetists with the latest evidence. The study looked at whether exposing infants to a typical dose of anaesthesia for surgery had an effect on their brain development. They compared these infants to similar infants having a procedure done under a a different anaesthetic technique, which was regional.
Seven hundred infants were recruited for the study. These participants had a hernia operation at the age of 2 and then at 5 years old. These infants were also assigned to either a group that was given a general anaesthetic or a group that was given a regional dose.
The outcomes of this study were very interesting. It showed that a single general anaesthetic which was given as an infant was not likely to be damaging to the brain development as they grow older. However, the study did not provide any evidence on the safety of general anaesthetic exposures which were for extended periods. The outcomes also demonstrated that there was not really any noticeable difference in the scores obtained in an IQ test, between the kids exposed to the different anaesthesias.
“This is a very significant study as 50% of all operations in this age group are short operations. This will give parents and healthcare workers alike that having a general anaesthetic in this age group is unlikely to cause harm to children’s brain development” says Dr Hindson, an Anaesthetist of the Anaesthetic group, Essential Anaesthetic Services (https://essentialas.com.au/)
Because of the findings obtained in this latest piece of research, we are to be more reassured that providing one dose of anaesthetia for children aged below the age of 5 and for less than a period of 60 minutes will have no noticeable influence on neurobehavioral function.
Further research will be required for young children who have multiple general anaesthetics and the latest study does not address this.