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Melatonin can ease post surgery anxiety in children

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Children undergoing surgery naturally experience anxiety. Waking up from anesthesia can cause behavior changes that occur in twenty percent of children, known as emergence delirium. Researchers have found that giving children melatonin before surgery can significantly reduce post surgery anxiety and behavioral changes in children. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that regulates circadian rhythm, and is produced in the brain.

Emergent delirium causes children to thrash, cry, bed wet, and experience extreme separation anxiety. Behavioral changes in children following surgery are difficult for any parent to watch, and require sedation to control. Melatonin, taken orally before surgery, is found to make children more comfortable after they wake up from surgery.

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Zeev N. Kain, M.D., MBA, Chair of UC Irvine Anesthesiology and Associate Dean for Clinical Research at the UC Irvine School of Medicine led the study. According to Dr. Kain, "Studies conducted in adults have revealed that oral administration of melatonin before surgery beneficially reduced anxiety levels, but relevant similar treatment data for children undergoing anesthesia and surgery are limited.”

Giving children melatonin was compared to the popular sedative midazolam (Versed), given to children and adults before surgery and procedures requiring sedation. Melatonin did not reduce anxiety before surgery, but had a significant effect after surgery. “It was found that melatonin significantly reduced the incidence of emergence delirium in these children. As 3 million children undergo surgery in the U.S. each year, these findings reveal noteworthy health care and treatment implications”, according to Dr. Kain.

Melatonin, administered by mouth before surgery, can help reduce anxiety after surgery in children, reducing emergent delirium, as shown by the study. The amount given was dependent on weight, and 148 children were included in the study, between age 2 and 8. Children who are very anxious before surgery are more prone to develop behavior changes when waking up from anesthesia. A combination of traditional sedation and melatonin, offers better treatment options for children undergoing surgery.