Babies screened for heart defects

A simple pulse oximetry test of blood oxygen level can identify babies with congenital heart defects, a major UK study has shown.

The test, carried out with over 20,000 newborn babies across six NHS Trusts in the West Midlands, was found to be a quick and non-invasive way to identify a major cause of infant mortality.

Writing in The Lancet, researchers from the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Women’s Hospital said that the PulseOx test could be used on postnatal awards with life-saving results, at little cost.

Congenital heart defects occur in 1 in 160 births in the UK. Current screening for heart defects involves ultrasound before delivery and routine examination of all newborn babies – however, defects are often missed.

In the study, midwives used a small sensor fastened to the baby’s hand and foot to measure blood oxygen levels. A total of 195 babies with abnormal results were then given a heart ultrasound. Of these, 26 had a major congenital heart defect, while a further 46 had other significant problems that were flagged by the test.

Dr Andrew Ewer, lead investigator of the study, said the test was “simple, painless and non-invasive,” adding that “It takes longer to undress the baby than it does to do the test.”

He concluded: “I think we now have enough evidence to say that pulse oximetry screening should be incorporated into everyday clinical practice. We would like to see all babies being routinely tested.”


PulseOx test on baby