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Is Anesthesia Dangerous for Infants and Kids?

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The brain is an incredibly complex organ that, if even slightly altered or damaged, can spell long-term negative effects. It is particularly vulnerable in infants and children, whose neurological systems continue to develop once outside of the womb. The increased susceptibility of babies and kids to brain injuries and associated brain damage makes any potential threat to their developing brains all the more frightening. Such is the case with anesthesia, which has been a significant source of debate among those in the medical community and the general public since several years ago, when the FDA issued a warning about the possible link between anesthesia and brain cell death, and cognitive and behavioral problems. A new study sought to confirm or refute this contention and further understand the association between anesthesia use in the early years of a child’s life, and possible effects on brain development.

Is Anesthesia Dangerous for Kids?

The topic of using anesthesia in children and infants was brought to the forefront in 2016, when the FDA issued a warning about using anesthesia and sedatives during pediatric surgeries and medical procedures. Since its original warning, the FDA provided updated guidance in its 2017 Drug Safety Communication. According to the warning, some human and animal studies revealed a possible negative affect on the brains of young children under age 3 when exposed to anesthestic or sedative drugs for prolonged periods, repeated exposure to anesthesia, or the use of anesthesia in pregnant women in their third trimester.

One of the primary studies referenced in the warning was conducted on young and pregnant animals. It showed that exposure to general anesthetic and sedation drugs for more than 3 hours can cause widespread loss of nerve cells in the developing brain, which may further cause learning and/or behavioral impairments. Additional studies in human populations have confirmed the risk of prolonged exposure, but have not shown the same consequences for neurodevelopment when anesthesia is used in single, relatively brief doses.

Can Anesthesia Cause Brain Damage in Infants?

A new study investigated the neurodevelopmental outcomes of children who were exposed to an hour or less of general anesthesia in early infancy. The research, published in The Lancet, found that general anesthesia for one hour or less did have a negative impact on the intelligence or cognition of children by age 5. It showed the same results when comparing regional versus general anesthesia.

The latest study sought to expand upon prior research, which had only tested the effects of anesthesia on the neurodevelopment of children up to age 2. Neither the 2-year-old population study, nor the 5-year-old population study revealed negative outcomes for cognitive testing or neurodevelopment in the children involved. Experts in the field have suggested that this study presents the most compelling findings confirming that brief exposure to anesthesia in infants will not cause harm to a child’s developing brain. Clearly, this data is incredibly encouraging, particularly for parents whose children require surgery to correct or address serious medical conditions in early infancy.

Of course, there are serious limitations. For instance, prolonged exposure to anesthesia may cause detrimental effects on the brain in infants and young children up to age 3. The FDA has continued to provide warnings to this effect. It is possible that long-term behavior and learning problems may be devastating outcomes of procedures lasting more than 3 hours in early life.

When Anesthesia Misuse Causes Harm to Your Child in NJ

The risks of using anesthesia has continued to plague the minds of parents, as there is no true consensus on the issue at this point. Both the study’s researchers and the FDA appear to agree on one thing, however. Doctors must evaluate a child’s specific medical situation in order to weigh the risks of using anesthesia against the necessity for a potentially life-saving, or at the very least life-altering, procedure for a child. Delaying a surgery or choosing not to proceed with an intended course of treatment could be equally, if not more catastrophic.

If your child was harmed due to the improper use of anesthesia, and you believe mistakes by the doctor or medical staff are to blame, contact our NJ pediatric anesthesia attorneys to discuss your potential grounds for a claim. We can help examine your child’s case to determine who is at fault, and aggressively pursue the compensation your child deserves. Call 866-708-8617 or contact us online for a free consultation.


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