What are the effects of general anesthesia on the developing brain?

Dr. Vesna Jevtovic-Todorovi, head of the University of Colorado School of Medicine's Department of Anesthesiology, has reviewed various animal studies to assess the impact of anesthesia on developing minds.

  • Studies on the brain development of rodents and non-human primates were evaluated.
  • Non-human primates were the primary focus due to their similarity to human beings. Specifically, in terms of the timing, duration, and the complexity of their brain development.
  • General anesthesia administered in a singe, long dose was found to result in cognitive deficiencies.
  • Multiple, quick doses of anesthesia during vulnerable periods can significantly impair neurocognitive development.
  • Jevtovic-Todorovi made mention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning that repeated or prolonged use of sedation drugs and general anesthetic on children below three years could impact their brains' development.
  • Pregnant women in their third trimester can be affected as well.

As such, Jevtovic-Todorovi concluded that physicians should discuss the risks and benefits of using anesthesia on young children and infants with parents, caregivers, and pregnant women.

Journal Reference:

Vesna Jevtovic-Todorovic. Exposure of Developing Brain to General Anesthesia. Anesthesiology, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1097/ALN.0000000000002047

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