Moms who have had emergency surgery during pregnancy can rest assured that exposure to anesthesia is not linked to developmental issues in their children, a new study reveals.
While surgery and anesthesia are typically avoided during pregnancy, up to 1% of pregnant women may require it for unexpected health emergencies, such as appendicitis.
“While the results of our study do not change the recommendation that only urgent and essential surgical procedures should be performed during pregnancy, our findings can be used to provide reassurance to women who do require surgery during pregnancy,” according to study author Steffen Rex, head of anesthesiology at University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium, and colleagues.
The study, published Oct. 25 in the journal Anaesthesia, included more than 500 children aged 2 to 18 years.
For the study, the researchers compared neurodevelopmental outcomes for those who were exposed to anesthesia while in the womb with those who were not.
The investigators looked at assessments of behavior control, psychosocial problems and learning disorders, as well as psychiatric diagnoses.
The researchers found no statistically significant differences between the two groups of children. The effects of anesthesia were of similar magnitude to effects of such factors as parental education level and the mother's age at delivery, the findings showed.
Exposure to anesthesia during emergency surgery was not associated with clinically meaningful impairments, the study authors said in a journal news release.
The mothers had undergone anesthesia with modern drugs and techniques, making the findings relevant today, the researchers noted.
Past analysis of animal studies had found general anesthesia during pregnancy could injure the fetus' brain and impair learning and memory.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration published a warning in 2016 that repeated or prolonged use of general anesthesia during the third trimester of pregnancy might cause developmental impairment in the fetus.
Delaying surgery is sometimes not an option. In the case of appendicitis, for example, delayed treatment can result in miscarriage or sepsis for the mother.
Read more about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's caution about the use of anesthesia during pregnancy.
SOURCE: Association of Anaesthetists, news release, Oct. 25, 2022