A simple test for baby’s heart

A simple test for baby’s heart

When a baby is born, there is so much to be excited about. Does she look like Mom or Dad? How much hair will he have? But most importantly, parents hope for a healthy baby.

Most babies are born healthy, but a small percentage can face a particular challenge soon after leaving the hospital. Critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) affects approximately eight out of every 1,000 births, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Theses defects are the most common birth defects in the U. S. and the leading defect that causes death. Babies with CCHD appear normal when they are born and frequently have no symptoms in the first days of life.

The heart defect becomes a problem several days later when the baby demonstrates poor feeding, poor color, apnea (forgetting to breathe) and even shock. Sadly, these babies sometimes die before treatment can be provided. The defects are difficult to find on fetal ultrasounds and even physical examinations.

Many hospitals are now routinely using a painless test that can diagnose CCHD before parents take their newborn home. Called pulse oximetry (or pulse-ox), the test can determine the baby’s pulse rate and the amount of oxygen in the infant’s blood.

According to Denise Hammer, a nursery nurse at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., “After the baby is 24 hours old, we place a small red light or sensor on the right hand and another on the foot of the baby, using a piece of stretchy tape. The sensors relay information to a monitor, which provides information for the doctor to see if further testing is needed.  It takes just a few minutes to complete.”

A “positive” result means that the test shows a low level of oxygen in the baby’s blood, which could be a sign of CCHD. Doctors will order additional tests to determine if CCHD is present and set a course for treatment. The pulse-ox test does not detect all CCHDs, however, so even a “negative” result can’t completely rule out congenital defects.

The screening does have enough success that it is recommended by many physicians, the AHA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations and medical professionals. Twenty-three states have enacted legislation making pulse-ox testing on all newborns mandatory in their hospitals. In Illinois, last year Governor Quinn passed the bill, entitled the “Congenital Heart Defect Screening Act.”

“Screening babies for CCHD using a pulse-ox is simple, painless and non-invasive,” says Hammer.  “Providing this in all hospitals is a wonderful way to improve the early detection of CCHD.”

To have your newborn tested for CCHD, be sure to check with your pediatrician or the obstetrics unit of the hospital where you will deliver.

Related Posts


About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.