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The Food and Drug Administration this week announced that it was requiring new warnings about the repeated or lengthy use of general anesthesia and sedative drugs in pregnant women and children under age 3 because of their possible effect on the developing brain.

But one doctor I contacted for this story expressed concern that the new warning might spur patients and parents to delay potentially lifesaving surgery.

“The (scientific) literature is so murky right now that I believe that the FDA has done a disservice to the population by putting out these warnings,” Dr. Rita Agarwal, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Anesthesiology and Pain Medication, told me.

Agarwal and the other physicians I asked about the new warning said that, when possible, they and their colleagues already try to minimize or postpone procedures requiring anesthesia or sedatives because of animal studies that suggest a possible adverse effect. But they do this out of an abundance of caution, because the evidence that these drugs increase the risk of learning and behavior problems is far from conclusive.


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