Cheap, Simple Test Reveals Newborn Heart Defects, Study Shows

Congenital heart defects are responsible for up to 7.5 percent of all infant deaths, but recent research shows that many of these tragic deaths can be prevented with the help of a simple, cheap device that is already widely available in most hospitals.

Early Detection of Heart Defects Is Key to Survival

When congenital heart defects are detected in their earliest stages, immediate surgery may greatly improve a newborn's chance of survival. Unfortunately, the outward symptoms of a heart defect often do not appear until well after birth, by which point surgery is less likely to be successful. According to a study published recently in The Lancet, a medical journal, the key to early detection of congenital heart defects in newborns is a simple procedure known as pulse oximetry.

Pulse oximetry is performed with a simple blood oxygen monitor that clips onto a baby's finger or toe, allowing hospital staff to track the oxygen levels in the infant's blood. The device uses infrared light to monitor the oxygen levels in the blood without piercing the skin, providing instant results on a digital display that doctors can view in real time.

Monitoring Reveals Three out of Four Heart Defects

In a series of studies involving nearly 230,000 newborns, pulse oximetry was 76.6 percent effective at detecting congenital heart defects. In addition, the method had a "false positive" rate of just 0.14 percent, meaning that the test very rarely signaled problems in babies who were in fact healthy.

When pulse oximetry indicates that an infant may be suffering from a congenital heart defect, hospital staff can perform an additional test known as an echocardiogram to reach a more conclusive diagnosis of the newborn's condition. If necessary, doctors can then perform surgery immediately to correct the defect and give the newborn the best possible chance of survival.

Legal Help for Victims of Medical Malpractice

The recent study on pulse oximetry confirms that this simple, non-invasive test can help save babies' lives when used routinely to screen newborns for heart defects. Unfortunately, however, some infants are still allowed to slip through the cracks untested, with potentially tragic results.

If your child has suffered an illness or injury as a result of medical negligence or oversight, speak with a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney to learn about the legal process of seeking justice for your child and pursuing compensation from those responsible.