A study by researchers at Mayo Clinic, Rochester Minn., and published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, reveals that children who have been under anesthesia many times when they are young have a greater risk of developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to David Warner, M.D, a Mayo Clinic pediatric anesthesiologist, and researchers of this study, kids who have been exposed to anesthesia more than twice before the age of 3 are twice as likely to have ADHD than children who have not been exposed.

Warner and team began the study after other research suggested that anesthesia alters the brain of young animals. He said:

“Those studies piqued our interest. We were skeptical that the findings in animals would correlate with kids, but it appears that it does.”

The study involved findings from a previous epidemiological study which observed the records of children’s education from 1976 to 1982 in Rochester, Minn., The researchers looked at which children ended up having ADHD or another form of a learning disability.

When they began to look at 341 cases of children younger than 19 who had developed ADHD, the researchers took a look back to the children’s medical records, in the Rochester Epidemiology Project, to see if they had been given anesthesia before they were 3 years old.

They found that children who had not been administered anesthesia or had surgery had 7.3 percent rate of ADHD. Likewise, for children who had been given anesthesia just one time, the numbers were relatively the same. The researchers determined that children who had been exposed to anesthesia and surgery 2 times or more had a 17.9% rate of ADHD. These findings were determined after also looking at the children’s birth weight, sex, and gestational age.

Dr. Warner explains:

“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. The findings certainly do suggest that further investigation into the area is warranted, and investigators at Mayo Clinic and elsewhere are actively pursuing these studies.”

This study was funded by the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Mayo Clinic Center for Translational Sciences Activites, the National Institues of Health and the Rochester Epidemiology Project.

Written By Christine Kearney