Background: Attentional dysfunction in children after corrective cardiac surgery in infancy has rarely been evaluated and is the topic of the present work.
Methods: Forty unselected children, 20 with tetralogy of Fallot and hypoxemia and 20 with ventricular septal defect and cardiac insufficiency, operated on at a mean age 0.7 (SD 0.3) years with deep hypothermic circulatory arrest and low flow cardiopulmonary bypass, were evaluated at mean age 7.4 (SD 1.6) years by the computerized form of the Attention Network Test providing performance measures of three networks of attention: alerting, orienting, and executive control. Parental ratings of attentional dysfunction were derived from the Child Behavior Checklist. Results were compared with healthy controls, between patient groups, and correlated with perioperative risk factors and current neurodevelopmental status.
Results: Executive control was reduced in the tetralogy of Fallot group, alerting and orienting were found normal and not different between patient groups. Durations of aortic cross clamping inversely correlated with orienting; durations of cardiopulmonary bypass correlated with mean reaction time and inversely correlated with executive control. Motor function and acquired abilities correlated with executive control and orienting. Parent-reported problems on the Child Behavior Checklist inversely correlated with executive control and mean accuracy.
Conclusions: Children with preoperative hypoxemia in infancy due to cyanotic cardiac defects are at increased risk for attentional dysfunction in the field of executive control, compared with normal children and with those who have acyanotic heart defects. Besides unfavorable perioperative influences, preoperative hypoxemia is considered responsible for additional damage to the highly oxygen sensitive regions of the prefrontal cortex and striate body assumed to be associated with the executive control network of attention.