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Screening for critical congenital heart disease

What is critical congenital heart disease?

Some babies can be born with a defect in the structure or function of the heart or vessels and appear normal the first few days of life. These babies with critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) are at risk of having serious or even life threatening complications if their condition is not diagnosed soon after birth. Once identified, these babies can receive special care and treatment early in life.

How do I know if my baby has CCHD?

We now have a way of screening or testing newborns to identify babies with CCHD before they show signs of the condition. Pulse oximetry is a simple painless test in which a soft, wrapped sensor is placed on the baby's hand or foot to measure the pulse rate and the amount of oxygen in the baby's blood. It only takes a few minutes. The test is done by the nurses on the day the baby goes home or at least 24 hours of age.

What do the pulse oximetry results mean?

This type of screening does not detect all types of heart problems and also, if the baby's oximetry reading is low, it does not always mean that the baby has CCHD. A low reading means that more testing is needed. The baby's doctor may recommend that the infant get screened again or have more specific tests such as an ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram) to determine if there is a heart problem. Your baby's doctor may consult with a pediatric heart specialist.

Who supports this screening test?

This screening is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and by many professional associations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association. Many states have passed or are in the process of passing legislation that supports making pulse oximetry screening part of every newborn's screening before they go home from the hospital.

Please let your nurse or doctor know if you have further questions about this test.

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