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Device Helps Screen Babies For Life-Threatening Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects are responsible for between three and 7.5 percent of infant deaths. Because a heart defect diagnosis is often a life-saving discovery, scientists have been trying to improve the tools and methods available for diagnoses. One such testing method, known as pulse oximetry, has produced some impressive results in its short existence.

Pulse oximetry involves the placement of a small monitor on a baby's toe or finger. The instrument uses different light rays to accurately measure the infant's oxygenation levels, which are instantly displayed in a digital readout. This simple, noninvasive device accurately detected more than 75 percent of all congenital heart defects while registering a harmless, false-positive rate of only 0.14 percent.

This tool can end up saving the life of a young infant with a cardio defect, as heart surgery greatly improves an infant's chances of survival. Pulse oximetry isn't perfect, however, and still requires a physician's expertise in following up on babies who exhibit warning signs of a heart defect. Still, if used properly, the pulse oximetry device is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to decrease the country's unimpressive infant mortality rate.

Source:, "Simple Device Can Help Babies With Tragic Heart Flaw," May 1, 2012

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