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Children who receive anesthesia may be at risk for learning problems

Today the New York Times reported on a recent New England Journal of Medicine study citing research that seems to link possible learning disorders in young children who have been anesthetized for surgical procedures. The study involved rodents and monkeys who exhibited cognitive and behavioral disorders after receiving anesthesia. Studies conducted by the National Center for Toxicology Research have found that one of the drugs contained in anesthesia causes certain cells in the brain to die. One study of children who had received inguinal hernia repair during the first 3 years of life was compared against a group who had not received the surgery, and the results seemed to suggest that those who had the hernia repair were twice as likely to have developmental or behavior disorders. There is some suggestion that autism and attention deficit disorder may be related. There also are conflicting results between two studies regarding whether multiple doses of anesthesia versus a single dose could make a difference. The FDA has partnered with the International Anesthesia Society to do further testing. One of the doctors interviewed said they these studies could be very important in allowing doctors to decide whether or not to combine surgical procedures where more than one surgery may be needed to correct a particular problem. Parents with neonates and children born with birth problems are perhaps the most likely candidate for these problems. Dennis F Feeley

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