There is a new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Cardiology Foundation and the American Heart Association which calls for screening of all newborns for congenital heart defects.
Before newborns leave the hospital, they should receive a simple, pain-free test to check for signs of congenital heart disease, one of the most common types of birth defects, according to a recommendation by a federal advisory panel.
A congenital heart defect can be detected early but often goes undetected because newborns can appear normal in the first few days after delivery. The reason these newborns look normal is that fetal circulation may still be functioning somewhat and thus they do not turn ‘blue’ or have a signs of distress until after they are at home.
This is pretty scary stuff for parents. A simple pulse oximetry test can look at the oxygen in the baby blood. It is non-invasive and requires putting an electrode on the newborn’s toe. Although there may be many false positives with this test it can give an indication of whether the newborn is in any kind of distress which is not evident by listening to his/her heart sounds or by looking at his appearance which may indeed be pink and healthy looking.
The question here is what to do if the pulse oximetry is positive indicating that there may be a problem. This has not yet been worked out thoroughly. The newborns that have a positive pulse oximetry may be sent for further testing such as a cardiac ultrasound. Not all hospitals are capable of newborn follow-up so the baby may have to be sent to another hospital for these tests. Parents will be upset and anxious until the results are in…but it is a small price to pay to avoid a possible life threatening cardiac event in the newborn period.
I am not sure what the protocol will be concerning these new recommendations but each hospital will more than likely develop their own response.
Parents need to be aware of these recommendations and the reasons for them so that they can advocate for their newborns and make sure that their precious little ones get checked out thoroughly.