Infants who require multiple exposures to medical anesthesia in the first two years of their lives have a higher chance of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as they grow, a study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings has found. At least two surgeries rendered kids twice as likely to develop the disorder before age 19, the study found.
The longer a child was unconscious, the greater the ADHD risk, which suggests that even several short exposures to anesthesia could heighten risk, says senior study author David O. Warner, M.D., a pediatric anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester.
Warner, however, stresses that parents should not be unduly alarmed if their child requires general anesthesia. "All we can say is that we can't exclude that this could be a problem," he says, noting that the findings do not prove cause and effect.
Very few young children undergo surgery requiring general anesthesia, and those who do typically have serious medical conditions that can't be ignored. Procedures might include hernia repair (to prevent a section of intestine from getting trapped and causing an obstruction), or surgeries to correct life-threatening abnormalities of the lungs or heart.
Image: Baby in the hospital, via Shutterstock