AHA LogoThis is an interesting piece of news. A latest study claims that a test that measures oxygen levels in newborns may possibly identify ‘critical’ congenital heart disease thereby avoiding serious health consequences. However, there are variables involved with the test that seem to require more study before it is accepted for universal newborn screening.

A child who is born with a serious congenital heart defect could perhaps need surgery or catheter intervention in the first year of life. Surgeries such as tetralogy of Fallot and coarctation of the aorta, among others appear to be required.

The oxygen test is known as called a pulse oximetry screening. Also, its advantages seem to outweigh the risks. However, the best way to put into practice pulse oximetry screening is believed to have not been well recognized by the study. Hence, the organizations insist that the test could be used at a physician’s judgment.

Additionally, the study experts anticipate that more analysis seem to be needed in order to decide whether the test should become part of the regular assessment of all newborns in the United States. In the study analysis, the test’s ability to identify critical congenital heart disease appears to have varied extensively, from zero to hundred percent.

According to the study experts, most studies which have analyzed pulse oximetry in newborn screening seem to be comparatively small. Moreover, screening protocols were observed to have varied regarding both age at screening and cutoff levels for an abnormal screen. A normal oxygen reading is known to be between 97 to 100 percent.

Since oxygen levels in healthy newborns may perhaps differ significantly in the initial 24 hours of life, the authors were of the opinion that testing after 24 hours would be the best strategy. It was noted that false positive rates were merely .035 percent in infants screened after 24 hours.

“The statement is important because there hasn’t been any strong guidance so far regarding the use of pulse oximetry as a diagnostic technique in newborns. Some hospitals across the country have adopted it and others haven’t, so we wanted to review the available evidence and offer a consensus opinion on the topic,” says William T. Mahle, M.D., FAAP, chair of the writing committee and associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Mahle claimed that the test could most likely recognize noteworthy or life-threatening heart defects that may otherwise go unseen or at least unnoticed before a newborn is discharged from the hospital. Early identification of certain defects appears to be crucial and can permit doctors to begin correct treatment or transfer to a specialty hospital.

Supposedly, pulse oximetry was developed in the early 1970s, based on the actuality that red blood cells which carry oxygen absorb different wavelengths of light in contrast to those that don’t carry oxygen. Apparently, oxygenated blood cells absorb infrared light whereas deoxygenated cells absorb red light. The test appears to measure how much oxygen is inside the blood that flows via the arteries.

Arterial blood oxygen levels are believed to have been measured by a device with a thin wire, tipped by a tiny red light. Allegedly, the wire is taped to an infant’s foot for a few minutes in order to acquire a reading. However, in older children and adults, pulse oxygen seems to be commonly measured by a device clipped on the finger.

In general, the cost of the test appears to be reasonable, and is nearly the same as the cost of other newborn screening tests. It was estimated that as of the year 2002, the occurrence of congenital cardiovascular defects in the United States is approximately 9 per 1,000 live births.

The findings of the study have been published in the journal, Circulation.