San Francisco – October 13, 2015 – SmartTots today released an updated consensus statement that emphasizes a need for more research into the safety of anesthetics and sedatives administered to infants and young children under the age of 4. The statement was endorsed by 19 leading U.S. and global health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, and the Society for Pediatric Anesthesia.
The consensus statement was developed by a working group of experts in anesthesia, pediatric medicine and neuroscience that was convened by SmartTots, a public-private partnership of the International Anesthesia Research Society and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The new statement follows one released in January 2013, and takes into account mounting evidence that exposure to anesthetics or sedatives in animals at a very young age impairs learning ability, behavior and memory, and the possibility that this risk may translate to problems in young children as well. Clinical (human) research in this age group has been mixed, with some studies indicating that similar problems may exist.
Since the release of the last consensus statement, new animal research has continued to show short- and long-term learning deficits when general anesthetics are administered at an age comparable to a human under the age of 4. This growing evidence, combined with limited clinical results, has led the working group to call for more research to determine the safety of current anesthetics for young children, as well as whether there are drugs that might mitigate any harmful effects.
While the statement does not recommend putting off needed surgery or procedures requiring anesthetics or sedatives – or conducting needed treatments without pain medication – it does urge health care providers and parents to discuss the risks, benefits and timing of any treatment. In particular, it advises weighing the benefits of any elective procedure against a potential risk. Experts also suggest exploring alternatives to anesthesia or sedation when pain management is not an issue – for example, with diagnostic tests.