May. 14, 2019

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Children who are exposed to general anesthesia during Caesarean section births are at higher risk of developing autism, researchers at BGU and clinicians from Soroka University Medical Center said Tuesday. 

In Exposure to General Anesthesia May Contribute to the Association between Cesarean Delivery and Autism Spectrum Disorder, published in the current issue of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the researchers say they have discovered a link between the use of general anesthesia during Cesarean section and development of autism symptoms. 

"We have known for many years that children born via 'C-section' are at higher risk of autism, but we weren't able to quantify exactly why," says Dr. Idan Menashe, from BGU's Department of Public Health and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience

"The current research shows that the exposure to general anesthesia commonly used to perform a Ceasarian section, rather than the operation itself, is related to communication challenges later in life. This is important because our findings highlight the potential reason for the association between c-section and autism for many years and suggest that C-sections performed with other types of anesthesia such as epidural or spinal sedation are relatively safe," says Dr. Menashe, who also serves as the scientific director of the National Autism Research Center at BGU. 

The study, conducted by an interdisciplinary team from the National Autism Research Center at BGU and headed by Dr. Menashe, compared the births records of 350 children with autism and 2000 controls. They found that birth by C-section that were conducted with general anesthesia increase the risk of autism, while those performed with epidural or spinal (regional) anesthesia did not. They further showed that the risk of autism associated with general anesthesia is not related to the reason of the surgery (elective or because of birth or pregnancy complications). 

The team also found that the association between general anesthesia and autism is particularly relevant to the type of autism with the most severe symptoms. They concluded that exposure to general anesthesia during birth may contribute to development of severe autism.