The results of a recent study published in the medical journal Anaesthesiology (2017), has caused some controversy over the possible harmful long-term side effects of general anaesthesia when administered to children under the age of 3.
General anaesthetic is used in common child-related surgeries, including adenoidectomy, tonsillectomy, hernia repair and circumcision. The dangers of general anaesthetic are extremely low due to the advancement of techniques and the dangers are more likely linked to the type of surgery performed. For healthy and well-prepared patients, as well as for planned surgeries, the danger drops to almost nothing. The number of patients that have complications is 1 in 100 000 and this is statistically due to an underlying medical condition.
What is the danger that this recent study posed? The researchers at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons observed that exposure to general anaesthetic was associated with an increased risk of mental disorders including; developmental delays, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or even anxiety. This is in line with the Food & Drug Administration of the United States of America (FDA), who issued a drug safety communication in December of 2016. The message contained a warning about the potential negative effects of anaesthesia and sedatives on the neurodevelopment of children under the age of 3.
Senior Author Professor of epidemiology, Guohua Li (MD, PhD) had this to say about the topic “The question of whether commonly used anaesthetics have any measurable adverse effect on neurodevelopment in children has been a hot topic in anaesthesia and surgery for over a decade.”
The FDA responded to concerns in April 2017 stating that “surgeries or procedures in children younger than 3 years should not be delayed or avoided when medically necessary.”
This can leave parents baffled about what the correct course is to take. As always, consultation between the surgeon and the anaesthetist should remain the priority when making a decision to send your child for surgery. Delaying surgery should only be an option for procedures that are not medically necessary.
For now, the conclusions raised by the study need more testing before they can be given due consideration.