“More research is needed to assess the safety of anesthetics on newborn and young children”, says a recent study published by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.
“There is no scientific evidence that anesthetics commonly administered for decades cause brain damage in children”, the report said. No studies have been done to determine the effects of anesthetics on developing human brains, but numerous animal studies show that most such drugs used on children kill brain cells in young rats, mice and rhesus monkeys that can lead to subtle but prolonged changes in behavior, including memory and learning impairments.
The report raises new concerns about putting infants and children under anesthetics for surgery. It calls for the medical community to work together to develop strategies for further assessing the safety of pediatric anesthetics, and for new guidelines for doctors who must choose anesthetic regimens for their pediatric patients.
The animal studies suggest young animals are most susceptible to the drugs during the period of rapid growth of the brain. In humans, that period begins before birth, in the third trimester, and extends to about age 3. An estimated 600,000 children within that age range receive general anesthesia each year.
Many of the operations performed on children are to save their lives or improve their quality of life. Skipping or even delaying such surgeries would have its own risks, according to FDA officials.
“We’re certainly not looking at saying anesthesia should not be used on children,” FDA officals told The Associated Press, adding that it’s generally considered one of medicine’s greatest advances.”