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Children Who Receive Multiple Rounds of Anesthesia at Greater Risk of Learning Disabilities

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You’ve probably watched a movie set in a time period from long ago and watched as a doctor told their patient to guzzle some liquor before an operation. Needless to say, doctors don’t anesthetize their patients this way anymore, thankfully. However, there are still some risks associated with modern day anesthesia, and these risks can vary by your age, overall health and the type of procedure you will undergo. Anesthesiologists naturally take the precautions to prevent an adverse reaction or accident, but a controversial new study found that children under the age of 2, who undergo repeat exposure to anesthesia, may develop cognitive problems and learning disabilities.

The study, conducted by Randall P. Flick and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic, found that children under the age of 2 who underwent multiple surgeries were at greater risk of developing dyslexia or other learning disabilities. Furthermore, achievement test scores and other cognitive tests showed that these children were at a disadvantage. The authors also noted that nearly all anesthetics have shown to kill brain cells in young animals.

However, the study is also receiving some criticism since it was retrospective in nature and the authors were unable to control for the effects of the surgeries and other factors. Pediatricians can also be reassured by the fact that most children do not undergo multiple surgeries before the age of 2. Nevertheless, until the impact of anesthesia is studied in human trials, doctors should still expect questions from concerned parents.