Infants who have undergone general anesthesia in surgical operations have poorer academic results, Australian researchers warn, without calling into question the need for certain medical interventions.
The study followed 211,978 healthy Australian children from birth to age four. The work focused on the effects of one or more operations under general anesthesia undergone in childhood on school results in 2009, 2012 and over the period 2008-2014.
The study found that children who had undergone surgery under general anesthesia (37,880) were more likely to have poorer development, 17% more than non-exposed children (197,301).
The researchers relied on their physical health and well-being, their emotional maturity, communication skills, social and general culture to assess overall development but also on learning such as language, arithmetic and level of proficiency and literacy.
The researchers found an association between general anesthesia and poorer school performance without being able to explain the mechanism behind the link. The children’s skills were reduced by 34% in arithmetic and 23% in reading. On the other hand, a single general anesthesia, does not seem to have any incidence, except for the level in arithmetic evaluated as weak, underlines the study.
One of the authors of the study, Dr. Justin Skowno, advises parents to explore with their doctors other possible alternatives to general anesthesia: either avoid surgery, delay it at a later age, or consider alternative to surgery or other sedative methods.
In addition, researchers recommend monitoring the child’s performance learning (writing, reading and arithmetic) at school entry and during schooling, especially if the child has had repeated hospitalizations.