Anesthesia and babies

April 8, 2011 3:38:20 PM PDT
One of the main things that parents worry about when their baby needs an operation is getting anesthesia.

An important concern that has never been fully addressed is do drugs that put a baby to sleep have an effect on their brain function.

The fact is there is very little known about the effects of anesthesia in the developing brains of babies. This concern however has recently prompted several doctors to write about the problem in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The FDA is also investigating the effects of surgery and anesthesia on babies.

Father and pediatrician Stephen Turner is also dealing with this concern, being that his six-month old son Casey is facing surgery.

After finding a swelling in Casey's groin while changing his diaper, Turner's mother-in-law notified him.

"I looked at it and said, 'Oh no, he's got a hernia. He's going to need surgery.'" Turner said.

Being that Turner is head pediatrician at Long Island College, he already had his concerns about the long-term consequences of anesthesia for small children. Turner was also aware of the research on it and he informed his wife Taryn Turner, Casey's mother of the facts who had her own concerns.

"I was very concerned about would he come out of it quickly? would he be groggy or in pain?" Taryn Turner said.

The fact is, there is little known about anesthesia in babies and how it may affect growing brains. The risks are unknown at this point.

Dr. and Mrs. Turner's minds were put at ease somewhat by Casey's anesthesiologist, Dr. Tigran Sukiasyan of Long Island College Hospital, by reminding them of the countless others babies before Casey who have gone through the same ordeal.

"In communities, they have many cousins, many neighbors that have children undergoing surgery and they're doing excellent," Sukiasyan said. "They're going to school. They're not late in their behavior."

Although several animal studies have shown brain function changes in newborn rats after anesthesia, the animals were given much higher doses of anesthesia than what is used in newborn humans.

Dr. Turner realizes he has no other choice at this point but to accept it and hope for the best.

"When you need the surgery, you need the surgery," Turner said. "I don't think there is too much that can be done, other than going to a place that has excellent anesthesia and excellent surgery."

Fortunately, for Dr. Turner and his wife, Casey's surgery was a success and his outcome is excellent.

Just as with a single surgery, more importantly, the effects of multiple surgeries on babies are also unknown. However, on a promising note, the FDA has started a program to fund research to make surgery and anesthesia safer for little patients and to uncover whether particular anesthetic drugs pose a safety risk or not.