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Could General Anesthesia in Pregnancy Raise Behavioral Issues in Kids?
  • Posted March 4, 2024

Could General Anesthesia in Pregnancy Raise Behavioral Issues in Kids?

Children exposed to anesthesia in the womb when their pregnant mom has surgery are more likely to suffer from behavioral issues later, a new study finds.

Exposure to general anesthesia before birth was associated with a 31% increased risk of diagnosis with a behavioral disorder as a child, researchers reported Feb. 29 in the British Journal of Anesthesia.

The risk was even higher when exposure occurred in the second or third trimester, the researchers said.

“This study provides compelling evidence that prenatal exposure to surgery and general anesthesia may have adverse effects on children's neurobehavioral development,” said senior study author Dr. Guohua Li, a professor of epidemiology with the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

For the study, researchers analyzed data for nearly 17 million deliveries between 1999 and 2013.

Of those, more than 34,000 children were exposed to general anesthesia due to their expecting mom undergoing an appendectomy or gall bladder removal -- the two most common non-obstetric procedures performed during surgery.

Children exposed to anesthesia in the womb were more likely to develop attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavioral disorders, developmental disorders involving speech or language, and autism, researchers discovered.

These behavioral problems tended to occur after the first three years, when differences between kids exposed to anesthesia and those who weren't became apparent, results show.

General anesthesia drugs can cross the placenta, potentially affecting the developing fetus, the researchers explained.

“For several years, there have been concerns about the long-term neuro-developmental effects of anesthetic exposure in children, with the FDA in 2016 releasing a Drug Safety Communication warning against repeated or lengthy use of anesthesia in young children and pregnant women,” said lead researcher Dr. Caleb Ing, an associate professor of anesthesiology and epidemiology at Columbia.

Despite these findings, doctors said expecting mothers should not forego needed surgery.

“Many procedures in pregnant women may be necessary, and avoidance of necessary procedures can have detrimental effects on mothers and their children,” Ing said in a Columbia news release.

More information

Texas Children's Hospital has more about anesthesia during pregnancy.

SOURCE: Columbia University, news release, Feb. 29, 2024

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