Not so fast…

In the U.S. each year, over one million children under the age of four have surgeries that use general anesthesia or sedation drugs. Some of these surgeries are necessary such as correcting heart defects or repairing a cleft palate. The vast majority are not necessary. This includes tonsillectomies and placing of ear tubes. There are safer non-surgical ways to deal with these problems. Surgery itself is a traumatic shock to the body that results in lasting damage, while anesthesia damages the brain.

For surgery that is necessary, it’s a tradeoff between the damage and the benefits. For surgery that is not necessary, it’s a bad deal. Chemicals used for anesthesia kill cells in the brain and can cause memory, learning, and behavioral problems.

The FDA is now warning that repeated use of anesthesia in children under age three, or one time surgery lasting more than three hours may harm brain development. The warning also applies to pregnant women who may have surgery. The FDA is also requiring warning labels to be added to eleven general anesthetic and sedation drugs.

Studies of repeated or lengthy exposure to anesthesia have found negative effects to subsequent learning and behavior. Studies looking at single, brief exposures have not found any immediate negative effects. However, be cautious, it is almost impossible to conduct a study to measure damage that may become apparent in later years and to prove that the anesthetics were the cause.

The best course of action is to avoid unnecessary surgery for your children and for yourself. Since it is estimated only about ten percent of surgery is medically necessary, that means a lot of bad choices are being made.