health experts call for caution when exposing young children to anesthesia

For a parent, there is perhaps nothing more difficult than having to watch as their very young child is wheeled down a hospital corridor to an operating room for a major procedure. Their child’s life will not only be in the hands of the surgeon, but also the anesthesiologist who must take great care to administer the right anesthesia in the right amount at the right time. Failure to do so can be catastrophic.

It may not be widely known that medical professionals are actually somewhat divided on the use of anesthesia on pediatric patients. Some believe it is generally safe and results in no long-term health ramifications, while others believe it should be used only when absolutely necessary and only then in the lowest doses possible.

While a Food and Drug Administration panel recently determined that the link between exposure to anesthesia at an early age and the onset of neuro-developmental problems later in childhood is somewhat tenuous, some studies have suggested otherwise.

For instance one study published this year found an association between cognitive/language deficits at the age of ten and the use of general anesthesia before the age of three. Similarly, another study linked cognitive difficulties, dyslexia and learning disabilities to the use of anesthesia in multiple operations prior to the age of two.

In fact, the FDA — the very agency that said a link between anesthesia exposure at an early age and the development of neuro-developmental problems was tenuous — recently published a consensus statement with the International Anesthesia Research Society as part of the SmartTots partnership, indicating that special care needs to be exercised in this area.

The statement — which was endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society for Pediatric Anesthesia — calls for healthcare providers to do the following:

  • Discuss all of the risks and benefits of procedures requiring anesthesia with parents/caretakers, as well as the risks of withholding any treatment
  • Remain updated on new research examining the effects of anesthesia on pediatric patients
  • Understand and appreciate the necessity of using anesthesia and sedatives in surgical procedures on pediatric patients

Here’s hoping that healthcare providers understand the risks associated with anesthesia and never jeopardize the wellbeing of their young patients.

If an anesthesia error has resulted in liver poisoning, brain damage, coma or death, remember you can seek the justice you or your family member deserves.

Source: MedPage Today, “Groups highlight children’s anesthesia issues,” Todd Neale, Dec. 14, 2012

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