What do recent human studies tell us about the association between anaesthesia in young children and neurodevelopmental outcomes?

Abstract

Anaesthetic and sedative drugs transiently disrupt normal neural activity to facilitate healthcare procedures in children, but they can also cause long-term brain injury in experimental animal models. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently advised that repeated or lengthy exposures to anaesthetic and sedative drugs prior to 3 yr of age have the potential to harm the development of children’s brains and added warnings to these drug labels. Paediatric anaesthesia toxicity could represent a significant public health issue, and concern about this potential injury in children has become an important issue for families, paediatric clinicians and healthcare regulators. Since late 2015, important new data from five major clinical studies have been published. This narrative review aims to provide a brief overview of the preclinical and clinical literature, including a comprehensive review of these recent additions to the human literature. We integrate these new data with prior studies to provide further insights into how these clinical findings can be applied to children.

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