NOV 27, 2017 7:39 AM PST

Are Newborns Suffering Brain Damage from Anesthesia?

Everyone knows that opioids are dangerous if not prescribed cautiously and taken exactly as directed. Even when the best precautions are followed, addiction can result. Sometimes though, there is no choice.

While opioid medications can be life-saving, they can also damage the brain, especially in very young children. Researchers from Boston Children's Hospital recently presented a small study of full-term newborns who had undergone necessary surgery that included the use of morphine for post-surgical pain relief and sedation. Morphine is a potent drug, but in the case of babies who need surgery, there aren't many alternatives.

Dr. Dusica Bajic, a researcher at Boston Children's Hospital, presented a small study at the Society for Neuroscience 2017 meeting, that suggested newborns who underwent a surgical procedure and as a result had to have anesthesia and long periods of sedation were at risk for abnormal brain changes. For consistency, the study subjects were all newborns who had surgery to repair a relatively common congenital structural abnormality in the gastrointestinal tract.

While the surgery the babies had was necessary and even life-saving, the effects of the sedation that was required are troubling. The babies all underwent MRI scans of the brain. Those results showed multiple brain abnormalities in the grey and white matter of the brain. These kinds of abnormalities are often seen in children who have developmental delays in language and other cognitive areas. The scans also showed more brain fluid in the ventricles of the brain as compared to healthy infants. While this fluid is necessary for neurons to thrive, too much can cause intracranial pressure to rise, squeezing the brain and impacting function. The study showed that the higher the dose of opioid sedatives a child received, the more severe the abnormalities.

It's well documented that babies who are born to mothers who used opioid drugs have brain abnormalities, but in these babies, the exposure was a result of necessary medical treatment, so it's important to understand the risks in neonatal surgeries. The FDA has declared that general anesthesia and sedation for babies undergoing surgery is safe, but their guidelines are based on animal studies, not human.

There were some issues with the study including the size and the control group. Only nine newborns were studied, and the control group consisted of healthy infants. Bajic addressed this in a press statement quoted in the Daily Mail, saying, "The future research needs to include [a] surgical control group, which would be the children with a similar type of surgery but in the absence of prolonged sedation. Other studies should be done to see if antibiotic use, the absence of normal environmental stimuli during sedation, an absence of normal feeding, etc. can play a role instead. We do not want to raise unnecessary concern with parents at this early stage of research especially since these babies undergo life-saving surgeries."

The video included here has more information on the study, take a look.

 

 

Sources: Daily Mail, Reach MD, Society for Neuroscience

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
NOV 14, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
NOV 14, 2019
Scientists Find a Non-Invasive Way to Detect Prions
Misfolded proteins, also called prions, can cause a host of problems, including neurodegenerative disorders....
DEC 18, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
DEC 18, 2019
Stroke Drug Enhances Stem Cell Therapies for Spinal Cord Injuries
Using rat models of spinal cord injuries, Yasuhiro Shiga, MD, PhD, thought treating them with stem cell therapy would point to nowhere but the nature of re...
DEC 29, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 29, 2019
How close are we to a simple blood test for Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) alters nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Famously regarded as the “happiness”...
DEC 27, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
DEC 27, 2019
Acne Drug Linked to 10 Suicides
UK regulators claim to have found a link between at least ten suicides and a powerful acne drug, manufactured under the names Roaccutane and Accutane. Alth...
FEB 18, 2020
Neuroscience
FEB 18, 2020
The Wearable that Spots Early Signs of Alzheimer's
Since 2000, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s has increased by almost 90%. With an estimated 5.8 million Americans suffering from the disease, the Early ...
FEB 26, 2020
Neuroscience
FEB 26, 2020
Why Alzheimer's may be a Sleep Disorder
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia in which amyloid-beta protein builds up in the brain, killing off surrounding neurons and causing cognitive...
Loading Comments...