Ketamine Anesthesia Induces Permanent Brain Damage

ketamineIf your child is under the age of 3 years, and you are contemplating elective surgery that will require general anesthesia, this study gives information that might cause you to pause and consider if the surgery can wait. 

Ketamine as an anesthetic can damage children’s learning and memory. Other recent studies have found that anesthesia drugs have neurotoxicity on developing neurons which can cause learning, developmental, and behavioral abnormalities. The study (can be seen here) found that children below 3 years of age that had a long surgery or repeated surgeries using ketamine were later found to have school-age learning, memory, and behavioral issues. Just published in Neural Regeneration Research (Vol. 8, No. 17, 2012) is a study showing ketamine could induce tau phosphorylation and neuronal toxicity in the development of neurons that results in damage to axonal transport.  This neurotoxicity may cause neuronal death in neonatal rats, consistent with previous studies that have shown ketamine-induced neuronal apoptosis.

I doubt one would ever recommend elective surgery while a woman is pregnant, but that clearly should be avoided. Numerous studies on the various anesthetic drugs and pregnancy show dangers.  This study adds to our knowledge about anesthesia risks in the very young. Neuronal pruning and development is active throughout childhood, and while there seems to be added danger to Ketamine below age 3, common sense would tell us that the danger persists beyond that age and that elective surgery might best be avoided in children all together.  As always, weigh risks and benefits when you make decisions about a medical intervention. 



Dr. Paul


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