A new study provides some reassurance that anesthesia at a young age is unlikely to cause harm (little to no effect) in most children.
Full text: P Glatz et al. JAMA Pediatrics, Published online November 7, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.3470: Association of Anesthesia and Surgery During Childhood with Long-Term Academic Performance
Findings In this cohort study among 33 514 exposed children, exposure to surgery with anesthesia before age 4 years was associated with 0.41% lower school grades and 0.97% lower IQ test scores, with no difference in school grades with regard to age. The overall difference was markedly less than the differences associated with sex, maternal educational level, or month of birth during the same year.
Comment: Despite efforts to control for indications which of themselves could impact the results, it is quite possible that the small changes detected in this study are a result of confounding factors rather than due to the anesthetic itself.
My take (from the authors): “Exposure to anesthesia and surgery before age 4 years is associated with a small difference in academic performance or cognitive performance in adolescence on a population level. The magnitude of this association should be interpreted in light of potential adverse effects of postponing surgery.”
Related blog post: More evidence of anesthetic neurotoxicity