New Screening Test to Identify Congenital Heart Disease in Newborns


Scientists have recommended a simple, non invasive screening test to detect congenital heart disease (CHD) in newborns. The test, known as “pulse oximetry” is used to measure oxygen levels in blood. Low oxygen saturation, in otherwise normal appearing babies, could be due to a congenital heart disease that may necessitate further investigations. Every one in 120 babies is born with a CHD, of which 25% are of a serious nature and require special care. If left undetected, these conditions can prove fatal. Initiating prompt treatment can however, save the lives of the affected babies.
Researchers have recommended pulse oximetry to be used routinely for detection of CHD. The report, which was published in the Aug 22, 2011 issue of the journal “Pediatrics”, was a part of an important paper that recommends strategies for national screening for critical CHD. According to Alex Kemper, M.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center and one of the report's authors, oximetry could be used effectively to identify undetected critical CHD. However, it is important that once such cases are identified, they are followed up properly. Many a times, such babies will require an evaluation by a pediatric cardiologist or an echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, before they can go home. Not all hospitals have these facilities. So they will have to be transferred to another hospital. In such a scenario, there is a need for a test which gives high false positive results. Pulse oximetry has a false positive rate of less than 1 percent.
Certain guidelines have to be established regarding the timing and the standards for a positive screen. This is because the value of oxygen saturation may vary according to the altitude of the place or the time after birth. As more and more hospitals adopt this screening test, these points will become clear. It is important to note that pulse oximetry has been recognized as an effective test to detect CHD in newborns by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Cardiology Foundation, and the American Heart Association.