Sydney: Children under three years given anaesthesia may have a higher risk of developing learning difficulties, says an Australian study.

The findings are based on an analysis conducted by the University of Western Australia (UWA) of the long-term effects of anaesthesia on children, based on 2,868 children born in the same region between 1989 and 1992.

Britta Regli-von Ungern-Sternberg, professor of paediatric anaesthesia at the UWA School of Medicine and Pharmacology, said the study assessed the effects of early childhood exposure to anaesthesia in the first three years of life on long-term differences in language and cognitive function, the journal Paediatrics reports.

“We looked at 321 children from the Raine study who were exposed to anaesthesia for surgery and diagnostic testing before the age of three and found they were about twice as likely to develop a significant language impairment and three times more likely to have problems with abstract reasoning by the age of 10, when compared to children who were not exposed to anaesthesia and surgery,” Ungern-Sternberg said.

Ungern-Sternberg said the study was not definitive and more work needed to be done to look at the long-term effects of anaesthesia on young children.

“The most important thing I want to emphasise is that these results do not mean that children should not have surgery if it is needed,” she was quoted as saying in a UWA statement.

“Parents should consult their surgeon to see if the procedure is necessary. Any concerns regarding anaesthesia and potential anaesthetic implications for their child should be discussed with their anaesthetist before surgery,” said Ungern-Sternberg.

Source: IANS