Purpose of Review:
Compelling evidence in animal models that, under some conditions, general anesthetics and sedatives produce changes in the brain and persistent impairments in learning, memory, and behavior. The present review summarizes recent clinical studies investigating whether the use of these agents in children causes similar neurotoxicities.
Although the results of retrospective studies are somewhat mixed, multiple exposures to general anesthesia were generally found to confer greater risk than single exposures with regard to learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, school readiness, and academic achievement. Recent clinical studies, including a large randomized controlled trial, are consistent in confirming that a single exposure in infancy to general anesthesia lasting less than 1 h is not associated with neurodevelopmental impairments in later childhood. These studies do not, however, clarify the potential impacts of longer exposures or multiple exposures.
Given that approximately half of the anesthetic exposures in young US children are 1 h or less in duration, the results of the recent clinical studies are reassuring. Because of the clinical necessity of administering general anesthetics and sedatives for longer periods for many surgical, procedural, or diagnostic purposes, the identification of adjuvants that prevent or reduce the potential neurotoxicity of these agents is an area of active research.