Surgical anesthesia: ‘A potential dilemma for child health’

This Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, photo shows the Children's Hospital Medical Center, in Cincinnati. The Medical center says it can't accept federal money to help sign people up for insurance under President Barack Obama's health care law because of new state restrictions. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

CINCINNATTI (MEDIA GENERAL) – According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy for Pediatrics, children who received general anesthesia for surgery before age four had diminished language comprehension, lower IQ and decreased gray matter density in posterior regions of their brain.

Andreas Loepke, MD, PhD, FAAP, lead study author and an anesthesiologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center told Science Daily, “The ultimate goal of our laboratory and clinical research is to improve safety and outcomes in young children who have no choice but to undergo surgery with anesthesia to treat their serious health concerns.”

Science Daily reported that Loepke and his research colleagues have published earlier studies that have raised concerns about “similar effects in young children during a particularly sensitive neurodevelopmental period in early life.”

The study compared the test scores of 53 “healthy participants” and 53 children in the same age range who had undergone surgery before the age of four.

Researchers stressed to Science Daily that “average test scores for all 106 children were within population norms, regardless of surgical history. Still … children exposed to anesthesia scored significantly lower in listening comprehension and performance IQ.”

Loepke and his team expanded their research to include the “potential societal impact” in their findings.

“Based on the estimated 6 million children who undergo surgery in the United States each year the lifetime potential earnings loss could total $540 billion,” researchers reported to Science Daily.

Authors of the study describe the issue of administering anesthesia to children as “a potential dilemma for child health.”

However, Loepke explained to Science Daily, “Many surgical procedures early in life treat life-threatening conditions, avert serious health complications, or improve quality of life. These cannot be easily postponed or avoided.”

Loepke also stressed to Science Daily that current methods are very safe but “researchers at Cincinnati Children’s (Hospital) are actively looking for alternative anesthetic techniques in their ongoing laboratory studies.”

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