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Anesthesia Before Age 3 Increases ADHD Risk

ADHD risk rises with anesthesia exposure

Although it is sometimes necessary to expose children to procedures that require anesthesia at a young age, parents should take note. A new study found that children who are administered anesthetics two or more times before they are three years old have more than double the incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than children who have not been exposed.

Another possible risk factor for ADHD is offered

It seems like the number of possible and potential risk factors for ADHD continues to grow. Over the years, food-related risk factors such as sugar, preservatives, and a Western diet have been named, along with environmental factors such as phthalates, lead, pesticides, and secondhand smoke, among others, have been implicated.

In the new study from Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, an investigative team explored a link between anesthesia exposure in young children and higher rates of ADHD after noting research literature revealed that anesthesia caused changes in the brains of young animals.

According to pediatric anesthesiologist David Warner, MD, an investigator on the new observational study, “We were skeptical that the findings in animals would correlate with kids, but it appears that it does.”

To arrive at this conclusion, the team evaluated educational records of children between 1976 and 1982 in Rochester, Minnesota, and looked for those who developed ADHD or some form of learning disability. They uncovered 341 cases of ADHD among individuals younger than 19.

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The next step was to uncover which children had been exposed to anesthesia and surgery before age 3 years. The researchers found that the rate of ADHD among children who had not been subjected to anesthesia and surgery was 7.3%, and the rate was nearly the same among those who had had one exposure.

However, the rate of ADHD was 17.9 percent among children who had two or more episodes with anesthesia and surgery, even after the researchers accounted for factors such as sex, birth weight, other health conditions, and gestational age.

So does this mean exposure to anesthesia causes ADHD? Dr. Warner pointed out that “a wide range of other factors might be responsible for the higher frequency of ADHD in children with multiple exposure” to anesthetics and surgery.

ADHD is a common neurobehavioral disorder that is usually first diagnosed in childhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 9.5% or 5.4 million children ages 4 to 17 years have ever been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2007.

Warner noted that “further investigation into this area is warranted.” For now, parents and healthcare providers should be aware that exposure to anesthesia before age 3 may have a role in increasing risk of ADHD.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Mayo Clinic release

Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons