Early Anesthesia Exposures Tied to Learning Disabilities

Multiple exposures before age 2 does not increase need for individualized education programs

MONDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to multiple anesthesia/surgery before the age of 2 years is a significant risk factor for the development of learning disabilities (LDs) later in life, but not for the receipt of an individualized education program for an emotional/behavior disorder (IEP-EBD), according to a study published online Oct. 3 in Pediatrics.

Randall P. Flick, M.D., M.P.H., from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues investigated the cognitive and behavioral outcomes in children who were exposed to anesthesia before they reached the age of 2 years. Of the 8,548 participants who were born between 1976 and 1982, 350 who were exposed to anesthesia before age 2 years were matched with 700 unexposed controls on the basis of known risk factors for LDs. Multivariable adjustments were made for the burden of illness. The outcome measures included LDs and receipt of an IEP-EBD.

The investigators found that the risk of developing LDs significantly increased after exposure to multiple, but not single, anesthesia/surgery, even after accounting for health status (hazard ratio, 2.12). The pattern was similar for decreases in group-administered tests of cognitive ability and achievement. The rate of children receiving IEP-EBP remained unaffected by exposure.

"We cannot exclude the possibility that multiple exposures to anesthesia/surgery at an early age may adversely affect human neurodevelopment with lasting consequence," the authors write.

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