When we talk of congenital anomalies and birth defects, heart malformation are the most common amongst them and account to almost one of every 100 births globally. Of these, almost 25% of them are fatal. Many a times paediatricians fail to recognize and miss out on diagnosing these defects, as the new born heart and lungs function normally and continue to mature for a few initial days.
Dr Alan R. Fleischman, MD, who is the medical director of the March of Dimes in N.Y, says that it is difficult to diagnose a heart defect in many cases. Many a times parents are discharged with a healthy baby and find their little one succumb to the heart defect eventually.
The Federal advisory panel advices that all new born must undergo oxygen test to diagnose heart defect, and thus can decrease mortality rate. The test is called pulse oximetry. It is a simple test that uses a small light sensor which is taped around the baby’s wrist, palms or bottom of the foot. The sensor calculates the oxygen in the blood in just 5 minutes. It can pick up cases with congenital heart diseases, and thus one can treat the baby right in time to avoid complication or any life threat. Furthermore, pulse ox costs just $5 to $10.
The test has been made mandatory in New Jersey and Maryland. In a few states, hospitals are conducting the test voluntarily. The Federal Panel advises that Pulse oximetry screening must be performed minimum 24 hours after birth. The panel also suggests that the baby should be awake and alert and that the test must be done on the right hand or foot. The results with less than 90% or 95% oxygen level, or those with decreasing oxygen levels must be investigated further.
Mona Barmash who is the president of the Congenital Heart Information Network (CHIN) says it is not easy to implement this test in rural areas, as once identified with poor oxygen, there may not be sufficient equipments to conduct a sonogram or treat further, or even transport the patient. Besides a false positive result can be a waste of money too. However, false positive test results are as low as just 1% and early detection always gives an opportunity to try and treat the baby, so the test is a life saviour.