Children who are exposed to multiple instances of anesthesia tend to exhibit an increased risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) later on. The conclusion belongs to a new scientific study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic.
The study team decided to search for this association in kids of all ages. They determined that two or more exposures to anesthesia before the age of 3 were correlated to a much higher chance of developing ADHD several years later.
Study investigator and Mayo Clinic pediatric anesthesiologist David Warner, MD, says that children in the study group were about 200 percent more likely to develop the disorder than their peers who did not undergo anesthesia during the same interval.
Warner says that the first clues hinting at this possible correlation came from studies of very young animals. During lab tests, researchers routinely put the unsuspecting creatures under anesthesia, in order to conduct various experiments.
In time, scientists observed that the state itself, or the drugs used to induce it, were promoting changes in the brain. “We were skeptical that the findings in animals would correlate with kids, but it appears that it does,” Warner explains, quoted by PsychCentral
In order to conduct the new investigation, researchers used data collected on children born between 1976 and 1982. All test participants were from Rochester, Minnesota. Experts were primarily interested in those who went on to develop ADHD or related conditions, including learning disabilities.
A total of 341 ADHD cases were discovered in teens under the age of 10. For these individuals, the team tracked back medical records, looking for instances of surgery or exposure to anesthesia. The rate of ADHD in children who were not exposed to these risk factors was 7.3 percent.
In kids who underwent two or more surgeries, the rate suddenly spiked to 17.9 percent, or nearly one in five. This indicates a strong correlation between the two, although a causal connection has yet to be discovered and understood.
“This is an observational study. A wide range of other factors might be responsible for the higher frequency of ADHD in children with multiple exposures,” Warner goes on to explain.
“The findings certainly do suggest that further investigation into this area is warranted, and investigators at Mayo Clinic and elsewhere are actively pursuing these studies,” he concludes.