DEHP: A softener for polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic polymer used in a wide array of products. Unplasticized PVC is hard and brittle at room temperature. A plasticizer (softener) is typically added to increase the flexibility of the polymer. DEHP is the plasticizer for most PVC medical devices. Devices that may contain DEHP-plasticized PVC include: intravenous (IV) bags and tubing, umbilical artery catheters, blood bags and infusion tubing, enteral nutrition feeding bags, nasogastric tubes, peritoneal dialysis bags and tubing, tubing used in cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) procedures, tubing used in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), and tubing used during hemodialysis.
Everyone is exposed to small levels of DEHP in everyday life. However, some individuals can be exposed to high levels of DEHP through certain medical procedures. DEHP can leach out of plastic medical devices into solutions that come in contact with the plastic. The amount of DEHP that will leach out depends on the temperature, the lipid content of the liquid, and the duration of contact with the plastic. Seriously ill individuals often require more than one of these procedures, thus exposing them to even higher levels of DEHP.
Exposure to DEHP has produced a range of adverse effects in laboratory animals. Of greatest concern are the effects on the development of the male reproductive system and the production of normal sperm in young animals.
DEHP is the abbreviation for di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate.
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Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2016