Biomarkers Indicate General Anesthesia Could Speed Up Cognitive Decline

General anesthesia and surgery could speed up cognitive decline and prompt the onset of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study of 11 patients presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the International Anesthesia Research Society and reported in Anesthesiology News.

The study noted significant increases in markers of neuronal injury from eight women and three men undergoing surgery to correct idiopathic cerebrospinal fluid leaks. The researchers took CSF samples before and after surgery, as well as six, 24 and 48 hours after surgery or until the catheter was removed. Around half of the patients received total IV anesthesia, while the others received inhaled anesthetics.

The researchers noted an increase in S100b and total tau, both of which indicate neuronal injury, after six hours. By 24 hours, total tau had increased by an average of 200 percent. According to the report, it is not clear whether patients ever fully recover from the decline witnessed from anesthesia, and results from animal studies suggest that anesthesia and surgery can stunt cognitive development, advance cognitive decline and adversely affect the cognitive pathways associated with Alzheimer's.  

The researchers said that while this evidence does not warrant a change in practice, the results point to a problem that requires more investigation. Study co-author Roderic Eckenhoff, MD, professor of anesthesia at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said the data have prompted him to use regional anesthesia in his older patients whenever possible.

Related Articles on Anesthesia:
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Surgery Center Physician Dr. Robin Wright Studies Nerve Damage in Inguinal Repair Patients
Connecticut Anesthesiologist Fined for Presenting False Information on License Renewal Form

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