Study shows no effect of infant anesthesia on adolescents' academic performance

May 13, 2011

A study of Danish children who underwent inguinal hernia repair with anesthesia as infants found no difference in their academic performance as adolescents compared with a general population sample of their peers.

A study of Danish children who underwent inguinal hernia repair with anesthesia as infants found no difference in their academic performance as adolescents compared with a general population sample of their peers.

Animal studies have raised concern about a possible adverse effect of general anesthesia on neurocognitive development in children, and a US Food and Drug Administration advisory committee recently called for more research into potential development and behavior effects in children exposed to anesthesia.

In the present study based on data from the Danish National Patient Register, researchers compared the scores at age 15 or 16 years on a nationwide test of academic achievement for all children born between 1986 and 1990 who had undergone inguinal hernia repair as infants with that of a randomly selected, age-matched population sample.

Test scores in the 2,689 children who had had hernia surgery and received general anesthesia (exposure group) were not significantly different from 14,575 children in the general-population sample (control group) after adjustment for known confounders (sex, birth weight, parents’ ages and education). The average score on the ninth-grade test was 7.73 in the exposure group compared with 7.99 in the control group, a nonsignificant difference. Average teacher scores also were similar in the 2 groups. The risk of not attaining a test score (denoting children with special needs or others who do not take standardized tests), however, was higher in the group exposed to anesthesia than in the control group (20.8% vs 13.1%, respectively).

The findings are reassuring in relation to short-term exposure to general anesthesia during infancy, according to the researchers. The higher probability of test score nonattainment in the exposure group suggests that a subgroup of children exposed early to general anesthesia may be developmentally disadvantaged, and effects on more specific domains of neurobehavioral outcome cannot be excluded.

Hansen TG, Pedersen JK, Henneberg SW, et al. Academic performance in adolescence after inguinal hernia repair in infancy. Anesthesiology. 2011;114(5):1076-1085.