Pulse Oximetry

Your Pulse Oximetry Questions Answered Here!

What is Newborn Screening with Pulse Oximetry?

Pulse oximetry monitoring uses a light source and sensor to measure oxygen in the blood. A soft, wrapped sensor is wrapped around the baby’s foot. Light passing through the foot measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. The test is quick (3-5 minutes) and painless. Pulse oximetry monitoring should detect most heart defects.

Why is it important to check babies for heart defects?

If undetected, some congenital heart defects can cause serious or even life-threatening problems. Early detection and early treatment lead to better outcomes.

Why check the blood oxygen level with pulse oximetry?

A low oxygen saturation level may indicate the presence of a heart defect.

What are the benefits of the screening?

Babies are less likely to be sent home with unidentified heart problems – some of which can cause acute, emergency situations or even death. If identified in the first 24-48 hours of life, medical teams are available for diagnosis and treatment of CHDs. Critical congenital heart defects, requiring immediate treatment or repair, can be performed before discharge from the hospital.

Will screening find all types of heart defects?

No current screening tool exists to detect CHDs 100 percent of the time. Pulse oximetry screening should detect most heart defects (those associated with a low blood oxygen level). However, some heart detects may not be found on screening (those not associated with a low blood oxygen level).

What will happen if a baby has a low blood oxygen level?

The pulse oximetry test will be done again. If the level is still lower than expected, then an echocardiogram (sonogram of the heart) will be done. A pediatric cardiologist will ‘read’ the echocardiogram to check for the presence of a heart defect. If a CHD is found, the pediatric cardiologist will start collaborating on those findings and working on treatment options. Most heart defects can be corrected or improved with surgery, procedures and/or medications.

What are the other signs and symptoms of heart defects parents can watch for?

•Baby tires easily during feeding (falls asleep before feeding finishes)
•Sweating around the head, especially during feeding
•Fast breathing when at rest or sleeping
•Pale or bluish skin color
•Poor weight gain
•Sleeps a lot, not playful or curious for any length of time
•Puffy face, hands and/or feet
•Often irritable, difficult to console
Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs) are defects that are present at birth and affect the structure or function of the heart or vessels.

•Heart defects are the most common birth defect.
•CHDs occur in approximately one of every 100 births.
•About 40,000 babies with CHD are born in the US each year.
•Although some babies will be diagnosed before birth or at birth, sometimes the diagnosis is not made until days, weeks, months or even years later.

Source: 1in100.org

How do you know if your baby is one of the 1 in 100?
  • Some CHDs are picked up in utero by a regular ultrasound.
  • Others can be picked up by a Level II ultrasound.
  • Some say a fetal echocardiogram should be conducted on every mother and child to test baby hearts.
  • Others want an echocardiogram, test that uses sound waves to get a picture of the heart, for every newborn.
  • Right now here in GA, Olivia and I lobby for a pulse oximetry test on every baby. This test is cheap, quick, non-invasive and should be standard in newborn screening. A couple of groups are working on making this test standard. In Indiana, Kristine from www.corasstory.org is working for Cora's Law, making pulse ox mandatory before discharge. 
  • Some CHDs can't be detected by known methods. So much more research is needed. Spreading awareness leads to more research funding.
What can you do?
  • Until pulse oximetry tests are standard. You can tell mothers and fathers to ask their doctor to run a pulse ox on their newborn between 24 to 48 hours of age.
  • Spread the word. Awareness means more support for much needed research funding. Awareness means less mothers and fathers will find out about CHD from the coroner.