Congenital heart defects claim the lives of more babies than any other birth defect. Fortunately, there is now a test that can help identify more than 90% of heart defects, catching these life-threatening defects before the baby even leaves the hospital. This life-saving test is called pulse oximetry screening, more commonly known as pulse ox.
What are congenital heart defects?
- The word congenital means “present at birth.”
- Heart defects are structural problems that stem from the abnormal formation of the heart or blood vessels.
- They occur when the heart fails to develop normally within the beginning stages of pregnancy.
What is pulse ox screening?
- Pulse ox screening is a non-invasive screening test that reveals 90% of heart defects—defects that often go unnoticed by other tests.
- The test is done by simply placing light sensors on the baby’s hand and foot. Once connected, the light sensors scan the baby’s blood oxygen levels and pulse rate—alerting hospital staff of any defects that may be present.
- Pulse ox screenings are to be done after the baby has been out of the womb for at least 24 hours, but before the baby leaves the hospital.
Why is pulse ox screening so important?
Congenital heart defects are often asymptomatic. They can easily go undetected if they are not unveiled by newborn screenings. And they can be life-threatening.
You’re the Cure Advocate Michele Coleman’s baby was born with a congenital heart defect—pulse ox saved his life. Michele shares the following:
“Pulse ox testing is critical to saving lives of babies with congenital heart defects whose condition would otherwise go undetected. My son Dylan is one of these babies. He had an unremarkable birth and was doing everything a baby was supposed to do. He was eating fine, sleeping fine, he was not blue and he was not showing ANY signs of distress.
He was lucky enough to be born in Maryland, which had just 2 months prior made the pulse ox screening mandatory for all newborns.
The abnormal result of his test was the only indicator that he had a congenital heart defect. This test revealed that immediate open heart surgery was required, or he would not live. Our family is eternally grateful to the staff and advocates of the AHA and other advocacy groups who are working to make pulse ox testing mandatory in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. I tell as many people as I can to make sure that their baby gets tested.”
Left undetected, heart defects that could have been treated at birth may develop into serious, life-threatening conditions.
This highly efficient screening is currently required in over 33 states. DC needs to join this movement to help prevent infant deaths. Contact your council members, urging them to make sure every DC baby gets screened with pulse ox before going home from the hospital.
<Special thanks to You’re the Cure intern Catherine Christiansen for help crafting this blog post>