Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Rochester have found an association among children undergoing multiple surgeries requiring general anesthesia before age 2 and learning disabilities later in childhood.
Every year millions of babies and toddlers receive general anesthesia for procedures ranging from hernia repair to ear surgery.
The study was conducted with existing data of 5,357 children from the Rochester Epidemiology Project and examined the medical and educational records of 1,050 children born between 1976 and 1982 in a single school district in Rochester.
"After removing factors related to existing health issues, we found that children exposed more than once to anesthesia and surgery prior to age 2 were approximately three times as likely to develop problems related to speech and language when compared to children who never underwent surgeries at that young age," said David Warner, M.D., Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and co-author of the study.
Among those children who had multiple surgeries before age 2, 36.6 percent developed a learning disability later in life.
Of those with just one surgery, 23.6 percent developed a learning disability, which compares to 21.2 percent of the children who developed learning disabilities but never had surgery or anesthesia before age 2.
The finding will be published in the November 2011 issue of Pediatrics.