Pulse Oximetry – Congenital Heart Defects Screening for NewbornsAs the number one killer of infants with birth defects, congenital heart defects take a significant toll on families across the country. Fortunately there is non-invasive screening test that helps identify newborns at risk for heart defects and potentially save 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 may be conducted that aid in detecting critical or possibly life-threatening heart defects that might otherwise go undetected. New research suggests wider use of pulse ox screening would help identify more than 90 percent of heart defects.
In September 2011, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius 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 efforts are underway across the country to enact pulse ox screening policies that will allow babies with heart defects to live longer and fuller lives. As a result of these efforts New Jersey, Maryland, Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia have already 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!
Background ResourcesSmall Hearts – Big Challenges: Congenital Heart Defects (CHD) in Children, Youth and Adults Fact Sheet
Congenital Heart Defects Frequently Asked Questions
CDC Pulse Oximetry Fact Sheet
Policy ResourcesSeptember 2011 Letter from Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Scientific Resources“Strategies for Implementing Screening for Critical Congenital Heart Disease”
“Pulse oximetry screening for congenital heart defects in newborn infants (PulseOx): a test accuracy study”
“Feasibility of implementing pulse oximetry screening for congenital heart disease in a community hospital”