Screening for Congenital Heart Defects – Pulse Oximetry
Up to 3% of infant deaths are due to congenital heart defects and congenital heart defects are more common than Down Syndrome affecting about 1 in 125 pregnancies. Despite antenatal ultrasounds scans and newborn physical examination before discharge from hospital about 50% remain undiagnosed by the time they go home and many of these infants would under normal circumstances go on to develop serious complications or die. Identifying the problems early on allows doctors to correct or reduce them with surgery, where possible, or plan medication treatments.
Pulse oximetry is a simple test which measures blood oxygen levels in newborns by means of a small skin sensor placed on the hands or feet. A major British study on more than 20,000 apparently healthy newborn babies showed it can identify babies with congenital heart defects who would otherwise be missed by the routine baby check before the baby goes home from hospital.
A new study, the largest of its kind ever undertaken in the UK, tested the accuracy of pulse oximetry on more than 20,000 babies born at six maternity units across the West Midlands. In all cases the babies appeared to be healthy at birth. 1 in 3 babies with cardiac defects were missed by antenatal scans and the newborn examination but then identified by pulse oximetry and no babies died. Another 1% had other important health problems that would have been missed.
Lead investigator Dr Andrew Ewer, from the University of Birmingham, said: “This study has shown conclusively that this test is advantageous. We would like to see all babies being routinely tested. In this way the test will pick up additional babies who might otherwise have become very ill or even died.”
The screening programme in Innermost Healthcare is backed up by a Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist and all babies with abnormal tests would be referred to him for specialist examination and a possible cardiac scan (echocardiogram). Ideally babies should be checked within 24 hours or if not, as soon as possible after delivery.