New Study Examines Link Between Anesthesia and ADHD

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by lack of impulse control, inability to maintain attention, and impaired behavioral regulation. Children who struggle with ADHD often have other psychological problems and learning disabilities. Specifically, the symptoms of ADHD can severely negatively impact a child’s academic abilities, limit social functioning, and negatively impact self-esteem. Juraj Sprung, MD, PhD, of the Department of Anesthesiology at the Mayo Medical School has conducted extensive research on children with ADHD. In the most recent study led by Sprung, the relationship between exposure to anesthesia and the later development of ADHD was explored. Sprung evaluated children born between 1976 and 1982 and assessed how many surgical procedures they had experienced prior to their second birthday. The children were later examined to determine if they had developed ADHD at any time before the age of 19.

Sprung looked at a total of 5,357 children and found that of all the participants, 341 later developed ADHD. The study revealed that 7.3% of the participants had no surgeries before age two and still developed ADHD. For children who had one surgery before their second birthday, the rate of ADHD was 10.7%. For those who had multiple surgeries, the rate of ADHD onset prior to age 19 was 17.9%. The results of this most recent study demonstrate that children who are exposed to anesthesia multiple times are significantly more likely to develop ADHD than those who are never exposed or are exposed only once. ADHD poses many difficulties for children and their families. The inability to focus at home and at school can disrupt social relationships and put children at increased risk for the development of other psychological issues, including depression, anxiety, learning disabilities (LD), and mood disorders. Sprung added, “To the extent that ADHD and LD are produced by distinct mechanisms, this suggests that exposure to procedures requiring general anesthesia may affect both.” Sprung believes that these findings support previous research and will allow parents and clinicians to better identify children at high risk for ADHD.

Sprung, J., Flick, R. P., Katusik, S. K., Colligan, R. C., Barbaresi, W. J., Bojanic, K., et al. (2012). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder after early exposure to procedures requiring general anesthesia. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 87.2, 120-129. Print.

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  • Adelaide


    March 14th, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    At first this really concerned me because I work for an oral surgeon and of course we have to sometimes put children to sleep! But then I saw that it mainly focused on surgeries of 2 and under and we have rarely dealt with that. But what are parents supposed to do? Obviously if it is a case of life and death for your child you would choose the surgery and deal with the ADHD later if it arose.

  • pamsmith


    March 14th, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    Don’t you think that a stuy like this is going to set some kid up for failure or to be unfairly labeled?
    I mean, any parent of an adhd kid could look back and go, yeah that’s what caused it, having to let little whoever be put to sleep when he was young.
    Maybe that is just their excuse, their way of not admitting to any blame in the situation.
    I am not saying that it’s not tied together, but we don’t always have to be looking for ways to fan the flames of blame.

  • Nan


    March 14th, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    My problem with this is that you might not be looking at the whole picture. Yes these children may have undergone anesthesia more than normal. But then does this mean that they were treated differently at home, that they were coddles or hovered over, and that this could be the actual cause of ADHD and not the anesthesia? I think we have to be cautious here before jumping to conclusions that may or may not be logical.

  • steven


    March 15th, 2012 at 12:18 AM

    not much difference between those that did not have anesthesia administered from those who did once but I was shocked to see the jump in those who had it multiple times.

    but really what can be done about this?do we have an alternative for anesthesia?

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