Early Exposure to Anesthesia Has No Cognitive Effects on Children

HealthDay News — General anesthesia before 36 months of age doesn’t seem to harm children’s mental development, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers looked at 105 healthy children younger than 3 who had surgery to repair an inguinal hernia. Between the ages of 8 and 15, researchers assessed the children’s IQ, language, behavior, and cognitive functions, including memory, learning, attention, and thinking speed.

The exposed children were no different than siblings who were not exposed to general anesthesia at a young age. The researchers observed no statistically significant differences in mean scores for memory/learning, motor/processing speed, visuospatial function, attention, executive function, language, or behavior.

“We need to take a closer look at the effect of anesthesia on cognitive function in girls, since most of the subjects in the group exposed to anesthesia were boys,” study author Lena Sun, MD, a professor of pediatric anesthesiology and pediatrics at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said in a Columbia news release. Also, the effects of repeated and prolonged exposure to anesthesia should be studied further, especially in children with serious medical conditions, she added.


Sun LS, Li G, Miller TK, et al. Association Between a Single General Anesthesia Exposure Before Age 36 Months and Neurocognitive Outcomes in Later Childhood. JAMA. 2016;315(21):2312-2320. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.6967.