News from the FDA/CDC

FDA warning: General anesthetics may damage young brains


The Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning that repeated or lengthy use of general anesthetic and sedation drugs during surgeries or procedures in children younger than 3 years or in pregnant women during their third trimester may affect the development of children’s brains.

“Recent human studies suggest that a single, relatively short exposure to general anesthetic and sedation drugs in infants or toddlers is unlikely to have negative effects on behavior or learning.” The studies suggesting a problem with longer or repeat exposures “had limitations, and it is unclear whether any negative effects seen in children’s learning or behavior were due to the drugs or to other factors, such as the underlying medical condition that led to the need for the surgery or procedure.” Further research is needed, the agency said.

In the meantime, “health care professionals should balance the benefits of appropriate anesthesia in young children and pregnant women against the potential risks, especially for procedures that may last longer than 3 hours or if multiple procedures are required in children under 3 years. Discuss with parents, caregivers, and pregnant women the benefits, risks, and appropriate timing and duration of surgery or procedures requiring anesthetic and sedation drugs,” the FDA said.

FDA is adding its warning to the labels of 11 general anesthetics and sedatives, including desflurane, halothane, ketamine, lorazepam injection, methohexital, pentobarbital, and propofol. The drugs block N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors and/or potentiate gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity. No specific medications have been shown to be safer than any other, the agency said.

FDA will continue to monitor the situation, and update its warning as additional information comes in. “We urge health care professionals, patients, parents, and caregivers to report side effects involving anesthetic and sedation drugs or other medicines to the FDA MedWatch program,” the FDA said.

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