Parents will go to any length if their child is seriously hurt or ill. Many times, this calls for surgery. But there are questions parents should consider before consenting to surgery. One of the biggest surrounds the use of anesthesia – can it lead to brain injuries in infants and young children?

Researchers have been exploring this question for many years. Since 2003, the Food and Drug Administration has been studying how ketamine, a commonly used anesthetic for child surgeries, affects the brains and cognitive development on rhesus monkeys. Earlier studies used young rats as the test subjects, which found that the anesthetic harmed their learning abilities. So further research focused on primates, which have brains that are closer to humans.

The primate research has indicated that the young monkeys exposed to ketamine show brain function that is lower than what it should be.

In 2010, the FDA and the International Anesthesia Research Society formed a partnership to further study this medical concern. The joint task force is called SmartTots, which is now conducting a more extensive program of research to determine any dangers to the developing brains of young children after being exposed to anesthesia. There have been conflicting findings. Some research has shown developmental problems in infants exposed to anesthesia, while other efforts have not

However, SmartTots acknowledges the potential dangers and earlier this year issued a consensus statement on the use of sedation on young children. The organization said that at this point the potential risks outweigh the dangers of withholding needed surgery for children, but that medical care providers should:

  • Discuss with parents and other caretakers the risks and benefits of procedures requiring anesthetics or sedatives, as well as the known health risks of not treating certain conditions
  • Stay informed of new developments in this area
  • Recognize that current anesthetics and sedatives are necessary for infants and children who require surgery or other painful and stressful procedures

With any medical procedure or treatment, patients or those responsible for them should play an active role in their care, keeping informed of the nature of the treatment and any possible negative consequences. Even fully informed patients, however, may fall victim to medical errors. If you suspect you or a loved one has suffered negligent medical care, consulting an attorney experienced in medical malpractice investigations can be the start in determining who is at fault and holding them accountable.