Utilization of general anesthesia in children has important policy, economic, and healthcare delivery implications, yet there is little information regarding the epidemiology of these procedures in the United States.


The primary objective of this study was to describe in a geographically defined population the incidence of procedures requiring general anesthesia up to the child’s third birthday, and the patient characteristics associated with receiving these procedures. A secondary objective was to determine the proportion of children in the population who meet the risk criteria promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


A retrospective cohort of children born from 1994 to 2007 in Olmsted County, MN was established. Birth certificate information and receipt of general anesthesia before age 3 were collected. Proportional hazard regressions were performed to evaluate the association between characteristics of children and incidence of general anesthesia.


Among the 20 922 children in the cohort, 3120 (14.9%) underwent at least 1 general anesthesia before age 3. In multivariate regression, factors independently associated with receiving at least 1 procedure included prematurity, male sex, lower birth weight, cesarean delivery, a non-Hispanic mother, and a White mother, controlling for multiple gestation, number of children previously born, age, education, and marital status of the mother. Seven hundred and twenty-three children (3.5%) had at least 1 subsequent procedure. Estimated gestational age <32 weeks and low birth weight were independently associated with receiving repeated anesthesia. Eight hundred and twenty children (3.9%) had a single prolonged exposure above 3 hours, multiple exposures prior to age 3, or both.


Approximately 1 in 7 children were exposed to at least 1 episode of general anesthesia before age 3, and approximately 1 in 4 children who received general anesthesia fall within the high-risk category as defined by the recent FDA warning. The apparent disparities in surgical utilization related to race and ethnicity in this study population deserve further exploration.

Read More