Oximetry test excellent predictor of heart disease in babies

By Sheryl Kay • Published: August 22nd, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

As women choose to have children later in life, ultrasound testing during pregnancy has become more commonplace. Generally the practice simply reveals a healthy fetus and identifies the gender, but other times a variety of medical issues become apparent.

One of the concerns that an ultrasound may uncover includes congenital heart defects, but over the years doctors have found many instances when these conditions were not obvious in the results. In an effort to improve diagnosis of congenital heart defects, physicians are looking to other methods, including a simple pulse oximetry test at birth. During the test, a small plastic device is placed on the newborn’s finger to measure oxygen saturation in the blood.

Now, in one of the largest studies of its kind, researchers have found outstanding predictive results by using the pulse-ox test.

As reported in the journal Lancet, more than 200,000 apparently healthy newborns were given the simple test before being discharged from the hospital. Investigators found that pulse oximetry detected 75 percent of critical cases and 49 percent of all major congenital heart defects. Even after excluding 35 cases that had been previously detected by ultrasound during pregnancy, the researchers still found the pulse-ox test indentified more than half of the critical cases, and 28 percent of all major heart defects. The test works best when it’s given within the first 24 hours after baby is born.

Researchers noted that the pulse-ox test did result in about 160 false positive cases of heart defects, but that number was less than 1 percent of all infants. And of those babies, about 40 had other critical problems that required urgent medical attention.

Given its ease and high accuracy, it seems the pulse-ox test is just what the doctor ordered.