For people undergoing a serious medical procedure, the last thing they may remember is the medical staff working as the anesthesiologist puts them to sleep. The next thing they know, they are in a recovery room, and the surgery is over. Anesthesia allows individuals to go through complex surgeries without having to face the pain and discomfort of the surgical procedures. However, when children have to undergo a medical procedure, there may be new risks associated with anesthesia.
According to a study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, children who are anesthetized before they turn one may have problems with short-term memory throughout life. It may also have an impact on their reading comprehension, ability to learn, and affect their recall abilities. This study may give many parents reason to reconsider subjecting their young children to anesthesia.
The study, “Effect of General Anesthesia in Infancy on Long-Term Recognition Memory in Humans and Rats,” found that anesthesia in infancy impairs recognition memory tasks and performance in certain mammals. The study involved 56 children between the ages of 6 and 11, with half of the children having undergone a procedure before the age of one that required general anesthesia. The authors of the study found, “that anesthetized children had significantly lower recollection scores and were impaired at recollecting associative information compared with controls.”
According to the FDA, each year in the U.S., almost one million children under the age of 4 undergo surgery with general anesthesia.Greg Stratmann, anesthesiology professor with the University of California San Francisco and lead author of the study says that until recently, medical professionals thought that the use of anesthesiology for children was safe. Only in the past few years did researchers question the possible link between anesthesiology and developmental disorders in children. “Anesthesia in kids is not harmless,” said Stratmann.
While some young children may still require anesthesia during surgical procedures, these new findings may make doctors and parents re-think their options if anesthesia is not absolutely required. “If a child needs a surgical procedure, that child will also need an anesthetic — there is nothing you can do about that,” said Stratmann. However, where anesthesia is primarily used to immobilize a child during a procedure, other options may be available, that don’t carry the long-term risks of memory and developmental problems.
Anesthesiologists and doctors still want more research on the subject. Experiments have shown that anesthetics and sedatives in young monkeys and other young animals can kill brain cells, and reduce learning and memory capacity. Other studies have shown that children with multiple exposures to anesthesia may be more likely to suffer from learning problems.
Doctors stress the importance of providing information on these new findings without alarming parents. More research and large-scale clinical studies may need to be done before parents and health care providers can understand the link between anesthesia and brain development in young children. For now, medical experts said in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, that “parents and care providers should be made aware of the potential risks that anesthetics pose to the developing brain.”
If your child has been injured as the result of a medical mistake, the Gilman & Bedigian team is fully equipped to handle the complex process of bringing a medical malpractice claim on your behalf. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience, will focus on getting your family compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.
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