McCann ME et al. Neurodevelopmental outcome at 5 years of age after general anaesthesia or awake-regional anaesthesia in infancy (GAS): An international, multicentre, randomised, controlled equivalence trial. The Lancet. 2019 Feb;393:664-77.
Animal models and observational studies have suggested a link between early anesthesia exposure and adverse neurocognitive outcomes; however, findings have been mixed and studies are prone to confounding. This study is the first randomized controlled trial to compare neurocognitive outcomes for infants exposed to general anesthesia versus awake-regional anesthesia.
Study overview and results
In this international, multicenter, assessor-masked trial, 722 infants undergoing inguinal hernia repair were randomized to awake-regional anesthesia or single-agent sevoflurane-based general anesthesia. Infants born at greater than 26 weeks’ gestational age were eligible, while those with prior anesthesia exposure or risks for neurocognitive delay were excluded. The primary outcome was full-scale intelligence quotient (FSIQ) testing at 5 years of age on the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, third edition (WPPSI-III). Seven additional neurodevelopmental assessments and parental questionnaires regarding behavior were administered as secondary outcomes. Average anesthesia exposure was 54 minutes and no infant had exposure greater than 120 minutes. There was no significant difference in mean scores on WPPSI-III FSIQ testing, and no difference in the additional neurocognitive assessments or parent-reported outcomes used as secondary outcomes.
This study was limited to single, short periods of single-agent anesthesia exposure in children with no additional neurologic risk factors, so caution should be used in extrapolating these data to children with medical complexity and children undergoing multiple procedures, longer surgeries, or multidrug anesthetic regimens. The study population was majority male because of the surgical pathology selected and included only children in the narrow range of postmenstrual age 60 weeks or less. While this population represents a suspected a period of high cerebral vulnerability based on animal models, the implications of anesthesia exposure at other ages are unclear.
Important findings and implications
An estimated 10% of children from developed countries are exposed to general anesthesia during the first 3 years of life. While hospitalists do not typically select the route of anesthesia, they frequently care for patients undergoing procedures and must address parental concerns regarding the safety of anesthesia exposure. Given the rigorous study methods and long-term follow up in the current study, these data should provide reassurance that, for healthy infants undergoing short, single-agent anesthetic exposure, there is no evidence of future adverse neurologic outcomes.
Dr. Russo is director of pediatrics, medical director for quality and innovation, at WellSpan Health, York, Pa. Dr. Money is a pediatric hospitalist at Primary Children’s Hospital, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City. Dr. Steed is instructor of hospital medicine, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Northwestern University School of Medicine, Chicago. The authors would like to thank Dr. Klint M. Schwenk and the Society for Hospital Medicine Pediatric Special Interest Group Executive Council.
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