Israeli clinicians have shown that babies exposed to general anaesthesia during Caesarean section births are at higher risk of developing autism.
The study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and doctors from Soroka University Medical Center was published in the latest issue of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
“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,” said Dr Idan Menashe, from BGU’s Department of Public Health and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience.
“Our research shows that exposure to general anaesthesia commonly used to perform a C-section, rather than the operation itself, is related to communication challenges later in life.
The Israeli team compared the births records of 350 children with autism and 2,000 controls. They found C-section births conducted with general anaesthesia increased the risk of autism, while those performed with epidural or spinal anaesthesia did not.
They further showed that the risk of autism associated with general anaesthesia is not related to the reason of the surgery, and that the type of autism shown in the link to general anaesthesia was the type of autism with the most severe symptoms.
Menashe said C-sections performed with other types of anaesthesia such as epidural or spinal sedation are “relatively safe”.
The Israeli study follows findings presented to the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases last month, that infants born through C-section have altered gut bacteria which leaves them more susceptible to respiratory disease in later life.