Anesthesiologist Questions ADHD

Is there proof that anesthesia could cause ADHD?

A long time ago, Fox published an article about anesthesia being a cause of ADHD. For some reason I was thinking about this again, and I looked it up on google and saw a few studies that comment on an association between the two. Is there actual proof that general anesthesia is linked to ADHD in children?

2 Answers

Proof, no....the studies about this are inconclusive and can only show associations or ‘increased likelihood’ of learning disabilities. Testing for these types of conditions in a controlled fashion and trying to weed out all confounding factors is extremely challenging.

The bottom line is that we don’t know. Most recent studies seem to indicate that single short exposures to anesthesia are not harmful to the child.

My general advice is that it’s unwise to perform any truly elective anesthesia on a child. Make sure that your child really needs to have a procedure, and whether they need anesthesia for it.

Fortunately, it’s a rare thing to do ‘elective’ procedures under anesthesia on children...though we do see them every now and then.
Some patients who received general anesthesia wake up in a transient, excitable state, known as emergence delirium, but that resolves in minutes and spontaneously. As far as I am aware, there is no study proving the cause or causes of ADHD in children or in adults. It is a psychiatric diagnosis characterized by a collection of symptoms and the etiology is yet
undetermined.