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Pulse Oximetry Screening: Simple Heart Test that Could Save Newborns’ Lives


Today marks the beginning of Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Week—a great time to draw attention to a non-invasive screening test that helps identify newborns at risk for heart defects and potentially saves their lives. The test, pulse oximetry, or pulse ox, consists of sensors placed on a baby’s hand and foot to check blood oxygen levels. If their levels are too low, additional tests are conducted to detect critical or possibly life-threatening heart defects that might otherwise be missed. With congenital heart defects considered to be the leading cause of birth-defect related deaths in the U.S., new research suggests wider use of pulse ox screening could help identify more than 90 percent of heart defects.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has suggested that critical congenital heart defects screening be added to the “Recommended Uniform Screening Panel” for newborns before they are released from a hospital or birthing facility. To achieve this goal, association staff and volunteers are working in states across the country to enact pulse ox screening policies that will allow babies with heart defects to live longer and fuller lives. Thanks to the work of association advocates and key stakeholders, New Jersey, Maryland and Indiana have all recently passed laws requiring newborns to have pulse ox screenings prior to being discharged from the hospital. In New Jersey, just hours after their law took effect, a newborn’s life was saved.

The American Heart Association will continue its efforts to educate key decision makers and the public about the critical role pulse ox screening plays in improving early diagnosis for newborns. We will also work to increase funding for support and educational services, enhance scientific research in this area, and expand access to quality care for the nation’s children

To learn more about congenital heart defects and pulse ox screening policies in your state, visit You’re the Cure today!

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