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Anesthesia May Harm Children's Brains

Study: Anesthesia Before Age 3 Linked to Later Mental Problems

Advice to Parents continued...

But what are the risks, exactly? Experts say that's a question that doesn't have a good answer.

"We don't know whether the problem is a real one, and if it's a real one, we don't know how to avoid it," says Michael Roizen, MD, an anesthesiologist who is chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio.

Roizen also chairs the SmartTots campaign, which is a joint project of the FDA and the International Anesthesia Research Society. SmartTots is funding studies on the safety of anesthesia in kids.

Until more is known, Roizen says parents shouldn't panic.

"If the child needs surgery, there is no way of avoiding [anesthesia] right now," Roizen tells WebMD. "The goal is to have the shortest period of time of anesthesia as possible."

If the procedure is a minor one, parents should work with their child's doctor to see if it can be delayed.

"If it is tubes or tonsils and it can be put off until after age 3, then it should be put off," Roizen says.

Flick says some procedures, such as hernia repairs, can be done with regional anesthesia, which numbs part of the body, as opposed to general anesthesia. There's no evidence suggesting one approach is better than the other.

It's also a good idea to meet with your child's anesthesiologist to ask what drugs may be used. In general, Flick says, "Single, brief anesthetics typically do not cause a problem."

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