Attention deficit after kids’ critical illness linked to plasticizers in medical tubes

ScienceDaily, 1 April 2016

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Children who are often hospitalized in intensive care units are more likely to have attention deficit disorders later, and new research finds a possible culprit: a high level of plastic-softening chemicals called phthalates circulating in the blood. The researchers, who will present their study results Friday at The Endocrine Society’s 98th annual meeting in Boston, suggest these chemicals, which are added to indwelling medical devices such as plastic tubes and catheters, seep into the child’s bloodstream.

Their study included 100 healthy children and 449 children who received treatment in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and underwent neurocognitive testing four years later. Most of the PICU patients were recovering from heart surgery, but some had sustained accidental injuries or had severe infections. The researchers measured blood levels of DEHP metabolites, or byproducts. Initially they performed the blood tests in the healthy children and 228 of the patients while they were in the PICU. Patients had one to 12 medical tubes in the PICU and ranged in age from newborn to 16 years.

The investigators found that DEHP metabolite levels were not detectable in the blood samples of healthy children. However, at admission to the PICU, the critically ill children, already connected to catheters, had levels that Verstraete called “sky-high.” Although the DEHP levels decreased rapidly, they remained 18 times higher until discharge from the PICU compared with those of healthy children, he said.

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