By: 29 June 2015
Surgical anaesthesia in young children linked to effects on IQ and language development

Surgical anaesthesia in young children linked to effects on IQ and language development

Children who receive general anaesthesia for surgery before the age of 4 have diminished language comprehension, lower IQ and decreased grey matter density in posterior regions of their brain, according to a new study in Pediatrics.
Andreas Loepke and colleagues at Cincinatti Children’s Hospital Medical Center compared the scores of 53 healthy participants of a language development study (ages 5 to 18 years with no history of surgery) with the scores of 53 children in the same age range who had undergone surgery before the age of 4.
Although the average test scores for all 106 children in the study were within population norms, regardless of surgical history, children exposed to anaesthesia scored significantly lower than children who had not undergone surgery in listening comprehension and performance IQ. The decreased language and IQ scores correlated with lower grey matter density in the occipital cortex and cerebellum of the brain.
Using extensive analysis of surgical and other medical records, the children were matched for age, gender, handedness and socioeconomic status. The authors also factored in the types of surgeries and length of exposure to anaesthetic agents, which included sevoflurane, isoflurane or halothane (used alone or in combination) and nitrous oxide. None of the children had a history of neurologic or psychological illness or any other associated conditions.
“The ultimate goal of our laboratory and clinical research is to improve safety and outcomes in young children who have no choice but to undergo surgery with anaesthesia to treat their serious health concerns,” said Loepke. “We also have to better understand to what extent anaesthetics and other factors contribute to learning abnormalities in children before making drastic changes to our current practice, which by all measures has become very safe.”
Source: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Backeljauw, B., Holland, S.K., Altaye, M. & Loepke, A. (2015) Cognition and brain structure following early childhood surgery with anesthesia. Pediatrics. doi:10.1542/peds.2014-3526