Is Anesthesia Safe for Children?

  • Yost, Paul, MD
| Jan 25, 2016

My discussion with Straight Talk MD

Do you want to hear an in-depth, straightforward, discussion of sensitive, important medical issues like the economics of obesity, transgender youth, cell phones and brain cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, and the effects of anesthetics on the developing brains of young children?  CSA member Frank Sweeny, MD, an excellent pediatric anesthesiologist, started the podcast “Straight Talk MD” in November 2015 to explore the science behind these and other controversial public health issues.

HeaderLogo“The main thing I am looking for is to deliver good, solid information that has value for our listeners,” Dr. Sweeny said.  Guests on the show are all well-spoken, world-class experts in their fields, and Dr. Sweeny’s style makes hot button topics understandable and accessible to the average listener.

The public agrees; within one week, “Straight Talk MD” made it to the top 20 of iTunes “New and Noteworthy,” and Dr. Sweeny’s podcast has more than 20 five-star reviews.  Listeners have commented the following:  “Finally! A credible source of information on issues that face me and everyone I know.  In today’s medical environment, I look forward to these frank and lively discussions about our most precious possession: our health,” and “pertinent, informative and enlightening! Can’t wait for more!”

One hot button, emotional issue Dr. Sweeny brought to “Straight Talk MD” is the possible effect of anesthesia on the developing brains of children.  A decade ago, researchers discovered that most of the commonly used anesthetics, when given to animals during a period of rapid brain growth, caused an increase in apoptosis (programmed cell death) in brain tissue; those same animals showed signs of decreased memory and cognitive function (e.g. ability to run a maze).   This discovery was of concern to pediatric anesthesiologists, pediatric surgeons, and parents of children who need surgery early in life.

Many researchers have dedicated themselves to answering questions such as what anesthetics are safe, is there a safer time to do surgery, and how do we counsel parents. Smart Tots, a private-public partnership with the International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and others was created to help answer these questions. So far, the studies in humans have been inconclusive and point to a need for more research.


I was humbled when Dr. Sweeny asked me to help him explore this issue on his podcast.  It was actually really fun.  Dr. Sweeny is a great interviewer and researches his topics thoroughly before each podcast.  In the case of our conversation, “Is Anesthesia Safe for Children,” he had reviewed many papers about the subject and discussed the issues with some of the authors.  I have known Frank for many years; he is meticulous, funny, frank, and has a way of making complicated subjects entertaining and understandable.  You can listen to the podcast directly on Straight Talk MD or you can find it on iTunes. “Is Anesthesia Safe for Children” went live on January 18.

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