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Healthwise: Newborn Heart Screening

July 4, 2012

After you welcome your new baby into the world, Charlottesville pediatricians like Doctor Mary Anne Mayo of Piedmont Pediatrics are recommending a special screening for your little bundle of joy.

It’s a test that measures the blood oxygen level through a baby’s skin on the hand and foot. In just a couple of minutes it can detect potentially dangerous heart problems.

Dr. Mayo says seven to nine of every 1,000 babies will be born with a heart defect. One fourth of those are considered critical heart defects that will require surgery or a catheter to survive.

“It's just another useful tool. Even with ultrasound techniques that are wonderful in the pre-natal period and even with a complete physical exam, these critical heart defects can sometimes be missed because of the fetal circulation,” said Dr. Mayo.

The test works to identify conditions like problems with blood vessels, malformations of the heart, and pumping issues.

“So we would be able to step in early in detection and get them to see a cardiologist and then hopefully prevent them from having health issues in the future,” said Dr. Mayo.

Doctors say that the screening has to take place within in the first 24-48 hours of a newborn’s life prior to leaving the hospital.

“That [time] is usually the time frame that you will see the circulation changing and something call Ductus Arteriosus, which is a vessel that is present when they are in utero, will close and that's when you want to pick these things up,” said Dr. Mayo.

Picking up these heart defects early on could help your baby get the care they need before the condition gets worse.

The heart screening is not mandatory.

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