(NaturalNews) Millions of infants and toddlers age two and under are subjected to surgery every year. Sure, some have been in serious accidents and are suffering other types of emergency situations that require life saving operations. But the vast majority are basically healthy kids put under general anesthesia for procedures like repairing hernias or placing tubes in ears because of repeated infections. And sometimes these surgeries are repeated or a youngster has multiple operations.
No matter how often parents are told "these things are done all the time" and how "safe" anesthesia is, it is crucial that parents think twice about allowing surgery on their young children unless it is absolutely necessary. The reason? Scientists at Mayo Clinic in Rochester have found a strong association between children undergoing surgery requiring general anesthesia before they are 2 years old and learning disabilities later in childhood.
The research, set for publication in the print version of the journal Pediatrics and just published online, investigated medical data on 5,357 children from the Rochester Epidemiology Project. Of these youngsters, 350 underwent surgeries with general anesthesia before they were 2 years old. They were matched with 700 children, who served as a control group for the study because they did not undergo a procedure with anesthesia.
In all, of the toddlers and babies exposed to anesthesia, 286 had only been subjected to one surgery but 64 had more than one operation. Over a third (36.6 percent) of the children who had more than one surgery developed a learning disability later in life.
The children, who only had one surgery, had a lower but still elevated risk of a learning disability -- 23.6 percent of those little ones developed a learning disability compared to 21.2 percent of the kids, who developed learning disabilities but never had surgery or anesthesia before age 2.
"After removing factors related to existing health issues, we found that children exposed more than once to anesthesia and surgery prior to age 2 were approximately three times as likely to develop problems related to speech and language when compared to children who never underwent surgeries at that young age," David Warner, M.D., Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and co-author of the study, said in a statement to the media.
Anesthesia may damage the brain
This study isn't the first time Mayo Clinic researchers have found evidence anesthesia may damage the brains of children. The results of a 2009 Mayo study, published in the medical journal Anesthesiology, showed that exposure of children to anesthesia appeared to affect development of the brain.
Other previous studies have indicated anesthetic drugs causes abnormalities in the brains of young animals. For example, according to a study published by FDA scientists in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia, experiments on laboratory rats and other animals showed that anesthesia caused subtle but lasting changes in behavior and memory; anesthesia also impaired learning.
The new study is especially significant because it looked only at children experiencing anesthesia and surgeries under age 2 and controlled for existing health issues. "Our advice to parents considering surgery for a child under age 2 is to speak with your child's physician," says Randall Flick, M.D., Mayo Clinic pediatric anesthesiologist and lead author of the study.
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