How Dangerous Is Anesthesia to Children’s Brains?


“Concerns about the neurological risks of anesthesia in young children have reached a tipping point, as numerous animal studies have associated common anesthetics with impaired brain development,” reports Science. According to Science, the US Food and Drug Administration’s science advisory board recently met to discuss rising concerns and possible approaches, such as “a clinical trial of anesthetics in children, a consensus statement about their possible risks, and maybe even an FDA warning label on certain drugs.”

“But many involved in the issue are reluctant to make recommendations to parents and physicians based on animal data alone, and more direct studies of anesthesia’s risks in children are plagued by confounding factors, lack of funding, and ethical issues,” reports Science.

Researchers struggle to gauge risks of childhood anesthesia (Science, December 2014) Alternative link to digital edition here.


  1. When I explored having minor surgery earlier this year, due to my age, I was very concerned about experiencing cognitive difficulties since I already have them for various reasons. My experience was that anesthesiologists minimized this concern and in my research, I found the same situation.

    Interestingly, if someone experienced cognitive issues after surgery, they seemed to blame it in preexisting depression. Sound familiar?

    Anyway, I may not have any choice but to have it. I am going to make damm sure that my concerns are taken seriously and that all necessary precautions are taken. I even switched to a more expensive insurance plan so I could have more options in choosing providers and hospitals in case I felt my concerns weren’t being heeded.

    Anyway, point is I don’t think the neurological risks of anesthesia are limited to young children. I think anyone is a potential target, particularly older people.

    Report comment

  2. It would not be a problem if surgical procedures were limited to the necessary minimum, which is anyway a common sense standard of care. But we also have people trying to promote ketamine as an anti-depressant (it is a drug of abuse and in higher doses a potent anesthetic).

    Report comment

  3. B,

    I am not so sure about that. I know someone who was in her 40s who went in for routine surgery and had never before had an operation. She suffered cognitive damage from the anesthesia because she was given too much.

    I think what is happening is that because of the bad publicity from people waking up prematurely during surgery, that anesthesiologists are overcompensating by giving people too much medication.

    I do understand that some hospitals use a BIS monitor to prevent under and over sedation but many do not. Personally, I wouldn’t have surgery at a hospital that didn’t but everyone has to make that decision for themselves.

    Report comment

    • Anesthesia is a dangerous thing in and of itself and every doctor will tell you that. That’s why a surgical procedure which require anesthesia should only be done when there is no better way of treatment. In this case the risk involved is justified and sometimes problems occur – it is not clinicians fault (unless in cases when a patient declares e.g. allergy to certain drugs and this is not taken into account – I know of such a case when a girl got paralyzed – her parents won a lawsuit).
      In cases when surgeries are not life-saving or even necessary to treat a certain condition (like most plastic surgeries) there is also informed consent which maybe should stress the risks a bit more but people are generally aware that surgeries are dangerous.
      I’d be surprised that anesthesiologists would give too much meds because that can cause sudden death and that is a nightmare for everybody.

      Report comment

  4. “How dangerous is anesthesia to children’s brains”?
    There are so many variables to be considered that it would be difficult to do a study.
    There are many different anesthetic drugs used for different purposes and in different combinations.
    There is the process of securing and maintaining a safe airway. The procedure, length of procedure, age, multiple anesthetics, and patient med profile would have to be factored in.
    It would be difficult to come up with any valid or reliable information.

    Report comment