Anesthesia could leave kids with language deficits

 
By Shayna Brouker • Published: November 2nd, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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The top worry when it comes to anesthesia, besides what embarrassing things you’ll do under the influence of laughing gas, is that you won’t wake up again. But anesthesia could cause problems long after its effects have worn off.

Researchers from Columbia University found that kids exposed to anesthesia before age 3 were 87 percent more likely to show language disabilities and almost 70 percent more likely to have cognitive problems at age 10, compared with those who had not been exposed to anesthetic drugs. Just a single exposure to anesthesia was associated with increased risk.

The researchers were also interested to find that not all parts of the brain are affected the same way. Language and abstract reasoning were more affected, while behavior and motor skills were not.

Although the children could have already had underlying medical conditions that stilted their development, the researchers don’t think that’s the case. The procedures children in the study underwent were relatively minor, such as repairing hernias or removing tonsils.

The findings build upon past studies that also showed that kids who had early encounters with anesthesia faced learning problems later, like lower scores on standardized tests of reading, writing, math and reasoning. Exposure to anesthesia has also been linked to behavioral issues at school and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

But parents shouldn’t be alarmed by anesthesia. Often the benefits of surgery outweigh any residual risks. And on the bright side, one study found that rats stimulated to learn new skills after anesthesia seemed to perform better on tests compared with rodents that were not challenged cognitively. It’s just one more reason to tell kids to turn off the T-V and read a book instead!