Regional Anesthesia Is Best for Infants, Study Says

The best type of anesthesia for infants has been disputed in the past, with some experts believing that general anesthesia, if given to a baby during the first year of life, could increase the risk for development and learning issues. One study even linked general anesthesia in infancy to the development of ADHD.

But recently published findings concluded that regional anesthesia, an injection that blocks pain from a large area of the body while leaving the patient conscious, yields better outcomes for infants recovering from certain types of surgery.

Research from two separate studies, released by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), examined the effects of general and regional anesthesia by measuring the extent to which apnea (a temporary cessation of breathing) occurred after the most common procedure infants undergo—hernia repair surgery. Researchers from the Royal Children's Hospital (RCH) in Australia compared rates of apnea of 722 infants, and found that regional anesthesia decreased the chance of apnea in the first half hour following surgery.

"Our research provides the strongest evidence to date on how babies should have anesthesia for hernia repair—the most common procedure among infants," said Andrew Davidson, M.D., study author and associate professor, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia. "We found that spinal anesthesia is safer than general anesthesia."

This research is also a part of an ongoing study focused on the long-term effects of anesthesia on neurodevelopment outcomes.

Related: Brain Scans Reveal Babies Feel Pain the Same Way Adults Do

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

Image: Anesthesia via Shutterstock

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