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Pediatric Anesthesia Linked to Learning Disability Risk

Multiple early doses may be a significant risk factor for learning problems in later childhood

TUESDAY, March 24 (HealthDay News) -- Multiple early exposures to anesthesia may be an important risk factor for developing learning disabilities later in childhood, researchers report in the April issue of Anesthesiology.

Robert T. Wilder, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., analyzed data on 5,357 children born between 1976 and 1982, of whom 593 received general anesthesia before the age of 4 years. Among these children, 449 received only a single dose, while 100 received two doses and 44 received three or more.

Children who received one dose were at no greater risk of learning disabilities later in childhood than the 4,764 children who had not been given any anesthesia, but those who had received two doses were 59 percent more likely to have a learning disability, and the risk was even greater for those who had three or more doses, at 2.6 times that of children without any experience of anesthesia, the researchers found.

"These data cannot reveal whether exposure to anesthesia itself may contribute to the pathogenesis of learning disabilities or whether the need for anesthesia is a marker for other unidentified confounding factors that contribute to learning disabilities," the authors write. "However, these results suggest that the possibility of potential adverse effects of repeated anesthetic exposures on human neurodevelopment cannot be excluded."

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