The Debate on Pediatric Anesthesia and Child Development

By April 15, 2019Uncategorized

In February 2019, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Having Anesthesia Once as a Baby Does Not Cause Learning Disabilities, New Research Shows”1. The article unveiled the results of a randomly controlled trial that compared neural development between infants that were exposed to anesthesia, and the control cohort of infants who had no such exposure. This study conclusively found that there were no significant neurodevelopment differences among the cohort. In producing such results, the New York Times contributed to a larger debate in the surgical and anesthesia services community on the use of pediatric anesthesia. Over the past decade, multiple conflicting reports have emerged regarding the effects of administering anesthesia to pediatric patients on neurological development. The topic is oft-debated in the academic literature. A brief summary of important research to-date is useful for evaluating this question and deciding treatment plans for the pediatric population.

The theory suggesting that pediatric anesthesia administration could potentially impart negative effects on patients was early introduced on by results from animal studies. In 2003, Dr. Jevtovic-Todorovic and her research team discovered that exposure to nitrous oxide, isoflurane, and midazolam led to significant neurodevelopmental effects in neonatal rats2. In this study, the exposure to anesthesia agents was designed to mimic that of percentages utilized in surgery. Furthermore, the length of exposure similarly matched an average surgery, approximately 6 hours, in ord