Could anesthesia cause ADHD in your child?

A retrospective study published Thursday in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings has found children who have more than one surgery with general anesthesia by age 3 may be at higher risk for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Mayo Clinic researchers examined medical records of 341 children diagnosed with ADHD and compared those who had undergone surgery at early ages to those who had not.

Results of the study indicated nearly 18 percent of children exposed twice or more to anesthesia before age 3 developed ADHD.  That rate dropped to 11 percent among children who had only been exposed once, and further still to 7 percent among children who had never been exposed to anesthesia.

I personally find this data quite interesting – however, I wouldn’t say it should be a cause for alarm yet.

It does give me pause to think anesthesia, especially in very young children may pose a potential risk for developmental disorders, such as ADHD. Prior studies in animals have shown exposing rats’ brains to certain anesthetics can increase the rates of nerve cell destruction.

So, it comes to reason with this finding that it is quite important to have a conversation with your physician if you are contemplating surgery for your child.

Most pediatric surgeries are necessary, but if you look at the list of the most common operations such as tonsillectomies, ear tube surgeries and hernia repairs, you have to make sure that the operation is necessary.

We have also seen in recent articles not relating to this particular study that multiple surgeries for the same problem are seen more and more, and one thing you definitely want to prevent is repetitive surgeries on your child if the outcome is not ideal.

This is why it is important for you not only to consider the implication of pediatric surgery, but also the physician who’s going to perform the surgery.  I, for one, plan to keep a close eye on future research published on this topic.