Parents Are Not at Risk of Heart Attack while Watching Child Being Anesthesized

Parents allowed in the operating room while their children were being anesthesized experienced a racing heart rate and sweaty palms, but did not register any abnormalities on their electrocardiograms (EKG), a Yale study has found.

"The heart rate of the parents definitely increased as they walked into the operating room and as their child was anesthesized, but none of the parents in the operating room had EKG changes," said Zeev Kain, M.D., professor of anesthesiology, pediatrics and child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

The study published last month in the journal Anesthesiology was in response to an ongoing debate about whether parents should be allowed in the operating room while their children are being anesthesized. The idea is to minimize the children's anxiety. One Australian study had found parents in such a situation risked having a heart attack, but Kain said he found no evidence of this.

A total of 80 parents whose children were undergoing routine, elective outpatient surgery were randomly assigned to one of three groups - those who watched their children being anesthesized, those who did not, and those who were in the operating room but their children were sedated.

The researchers found the heart rate of parents in the operating room increased from a baseline of about 80 to 120. Their skin conductance level, which is evidence of anxiety, also increased significantly when compared to those parents who stayed in the waiting room. However the blood pressure of both groups was about the same.

When asked if they were anxious, fathers reported lower anxiety levels than mothers, but there were no actual differences between genders in recorded heart rate or skin conductance levels.

Kain said he does not advocate that all parents be allowed in the operating room because some might hinder the process. This decision, he says, should be made after a frank discussion between the physician and the parents.

Other researchers on the study included Alison Caldwell-Andrews; Linda Mayes, M.D.; Shu-Ming Wang, M.D.; Dawn Krivutza and Megan LoDolce.

The study was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation.