Published: 07-11-2016 13:41 | Updated: 19-06-2019 15:06

New study on infant surgery

Previous experiments have raised concerns that general anaesthetics and surgery for infants increases the risk of learning difficulties and sub-standard school performance. New research presented in the international journal JAMA Pediatrics now suggests that these fears are unwarranted.

Over the past few decades, a series of experiments in which very young animals were sedated and examined for signs of brain damage or cognitive impairment have fuelled concerns amongst paediatricians and patient organisations around the world that infants subjected to general anaesthetic and surgery early in life are more at risk of underdeveloped neurocognitive faculties, with the impact on their education this implies.

Major study on children and young adults under twenty

A major national study, led by Lars I Eriksson and Fredrik Granath at Karolinska Institutet, and supported by the country’s healthcare system and school and conscription data, has been conducted to ascertain whether children who were exposed to general anaesthetics and surgery at an early age run a similar risk. The study was based on epidemiological data and conducted on all children born between 1973 and 1993.

“Using a cohort of over two million children, we compared the results of those who had undergone surgery before the age of four with those who had not,” says principal investigator Lars I Eriksson. “We found a marginal difference in school results in year 9 between both groups and similar results when we analysed the results in connection with national service at the age of 18. The differences found were several times smaller than those relating to gender, educational level of parents or month of birth (i.e. age when starting school). In light of the study we conclude that there is no cause for alarm as regards performing necessary surgery on infants."


Association of Anesthesia and Surgery During Childhood With Long-term Academic Performance.
Glatz P, Sandin RH, Pedersen NL, Bonamy AK, Eriksson LI, Granath F
JAMA Pediatr 2017 Jan;171(1):e163470