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Anesthesia safe for moms-to-be, fetus

DURHAM, N.C., March 9 (UPI) -- Anesthesia often used on pregnant mothers does not hurt the fetus, North Carolina researchers found, and even increases oxygen to the child's brain.

Earlier tests in mice had shown exposure to anesthesia killed nerve cells in the mice. Those tests involved exposing newborn pups directly to different anesthetic agents, however, and did not really reflect the actual experience of humans.

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This time scientists exposed pregnant sheep to four hours of a common combination of three drugs used to produce general anesthesia in humans.

They monitored the fetus real-time using near-infrared spectroscopy and found oxygen levels increased. A subsequent examination of brain tissue showed no cell death.

"The results of this investigation suggest that the moderate inhalation anesthetic exposure during pregnancy may not be deleterious to the fetus," wrote lead researcher James Reynolds.

A report on the research, conducted by researchers at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., appears online in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism.

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