Study co-author Dr. David Warner, an anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues used existing data of 5,357 children from the Rochester Epidemiology Project and examined the medical and educational records of 1,050 children born from 1976 to 1982 in a single school district.
Among the 5,357 children, 350 underwent surgeries with general anesthesia before age 2. They were matched with 700 children who did not undergo a procedure with anesthesia.
Of those exposed to anesthesia, 286 experienced had one surgery and 64 had more than one.
The study, published online ahead of the November print edition of the journal Pediatrics, found 37 percent of the children who had multiple surgeries before age 2 developed a learning disability later in life.
Almost 24 percent of the children who had one surgery developed a learning disability later in childhood, compared to 21.2 percent of the children who developed learning disabilities who never had surgery or anesthesia before age 2.
"After removing factors related to existing health issues, we found that children exposed more than once to anesthesia and surgery prior to age 2 were approximately three times as likely to develop problems related to speech and language when compared to children who never underwent surgeries at that young age," Warner said in a statement.