Test to detect heart problems in newborns

Headline Goes Here

Congenital heart disease results in more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defect. The problem is, it's easily overlooked. But this simple test could spot the problem sooner and help newborns get the life-saving treatment they need.

First-time mom Colleen Rugnier knows there's nothing like these moments. Everett wasn't even two days old, but he already had dozens of tests to make sure he's healthy.

"He's pretty easy-going. I'm impressed," Collen said.

About one in 120 babies is born with congenital heart disease. About 25 percent will have a critical defect that requires urgent treatment, but these problems are hard to spot.

"The challenge is usually in a newborn nursery setting, these babies look completely normal," said Alex Kemper, M.D., Associate professor of pediatrics at Duke University.

Now a test called pulse oximetry is helping doctors catch defects sooner. Kemper recommends all hospitals offer it. The test is simple: nurses attach probes to Everett's right hand and foot. Then a machine measures oxygen levels in his blood.

A study of more than 20,000 newborns found when the test was used along with standard scans and exams, 92-percent of critical congenital heart defects were detected and not one baby died because of a heart problem. The test also had a false-positive rate of less than one-percent. Everett passes with flying colors.

"It's reassuring because it's such a simple, noninvasive test, so you know, why not?" Collen said.

Now, she can keep enjoying these moments knowing the heart of the boy who stole her heart is healthy.

If a baby fails the pulse oximetry, he will have to undergo further cardiac testing. The test can also detect other problems like pneumonia and infection.

Right now, legislation has passed to mandate pulse oximetry in about six states, but many others, including Florida and Georgia, have introduced legislation to require it.  (Click here for a state-by-state look from the Newborn Coalition.)

Copyright 2012 by Ivanhoe Broadcast News and News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.