General anesthesia and surgery in otherwise healthy infants under the age of 1 year old could be associated with decreases in white matter in the brain, as well as reductions in the remaining white matter’s integrity, according to a University of Iowa Health Care study published Aug. 24, 2017, in the Online First edition of Anesthesiology.
Structural magnetic resonance imaging tests on 34 children, ages 12 to 15 years old, showed the volume and integrity of white matter was on average 1.5 percentage points lower in the 17 otherwise healthy patients who had been administered general anesthesia and had surgery in their first year of life, compared to 17 control subjects who had not had surgery or general anesthesia before their first birthday.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) issued warnings last April advising that lengthy or multiple uses of general anesthesia and sedation in children under the age of 3 could affect the development of children’s brains.
“The FDA may have jumped the gun a little in their warning because they based it mostly on animal studies,” says Robert Block, PhD, associate professor of anesthesia at the UI Carver College of Medicine and first author on the study. “The topic needs a lot more research specifically examining human brain development.”