Study Finds Melatonin Reduces Delirium after Operations in Children

Saturday, July 18, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: melatonin, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) Having an operation under general anesthesia is a scary and worrisome prospect for a child and his or her parents, too. But even a successful surgery can end with another, terrifying problem. Called emergence delirium, it is marked by acute behavioral changes experienced when a child wakes up from anesthesia. And it doesn't always simply go away during recovery, either. Unfortunately, emergence delirium is associated with the development of problems later down the road, too -- including bed wetting, separation anxiety and new nightmares.

While anxiety is normal before an operation, children who experience extreme anxiety before surgery are more at risk for emergence delirium. In all, about 20 percent of children who undergo surgery experience a period of severe delirium in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) that includes crying, thrashing, screaming and even needing to be put into restraints.

Now a new study just published in the July issue of the journal Anesthesiology reports that giving youngsters oral treatment with melatonin before an operation significantly reduces the occurrence of emergence delirium after the operation. Melatonin is a naturally occurring, light dependent hormone secreted by the pineal gland that is involved in the regulation of moods, sleep and reproductive cycles.

"Studies conducted in adults have revealed that oral administration of melatonin before surgery beneficially reduced anxiety levels, but relevant similar treatment data for children undergoing anesthesia and surgery are limited," said study lead author Zeev N. Kain, M.D., MBA, Chair of UC Irvine Anesthesiology and Associate Dean for Clinical Research at the UC Irvine School of Medicine, in a statement to the media.

So Kain and his research team set out to determine if melatonin could decrease anxiety levels in children when it was compared to midazolam, a sedative widely given to ease preoperative anxiety. They looked at a group of 148 children between the ages of two and eight who were undergoing outpatient surgery under general anesthesia. The youngsters were randomly assigned to receive either the drug midazolam or the hormone melatonin before their surgery.

Then the researchers measured the research subjects' anxiety and emergence behavior as their anesthesia wore off. To measure behaviors, the scientists used the Yale Preoperative Anxiety Scale (mYPass), the Induction Compliance Checklist and the Keegan scale.

The results showed that giving melatonin before the operation didn't seem to reduce anxiety levels in the youngsters. However, it did dramatically reduce the incidence of emergence delirium in these children -- in higher doses, it reduced the risk from 20 to 5 percent. "As three million children undergo surgery in the U.S. each year, these findings reveal noteworthy health care and treatment implications," Dr. Kain stated.

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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