Study finds no long-term impact of anaesthetics on children

University of Queensland

A University of Queensland-led study has found multiple doses of anaesthetics do not compromise brain function in young children.

Professor Claire Wainwright from UQ’s Child Health Research Centre said the result should reassure medical practitioners and parents with children needing repeated anaesthetics.

“Previous studies using young animals showed potential learning and behaviour changes and some studies that looked at groups of children raised concerns about brain changes,” Professor Wainwright said.

“But animal studies don’t always show how humans would react and the children with poorer outcomes may have them because of reasons linked to the disease or procedure that required the anaesthetic.”

The new study was part of a trial in Australia and New Zealand involving children aged under 5 years with cystic fibrosis.

Professor Andrew Davidson from the Murdoch Children’s Research institute said the trial involved mucus collection from two groups of children providing researchers with the opportunity to study the impact of repeated anaesthetic doses.

“Fluid was collected from the lungs of one group under aesthetic while for the other group, throat swabs were used under no anaesthetic,” Professor Davidson said.

“Our study showed the different techniques used for mucus extraction did not have any impact on the cystic fibrosis outcomes.

“When we examined whether the anaesthetics had any impact on cognitive or behavioural impacts, we found it did not.

“Multiple general anaesthesia exposure in those young children did not cause functional impairment in attention, IQ, executive function or brain structure in comparison to the group that had fewer anaesthetics.”

The research was funded by National Health and Medical Research Council Australia, Queensland Government Health Service and Clinical Innovation Fellowship, and the Children’s Hospital Foundation Queensland.

The research paper was published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

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