Test for newborns detects congenital heart disease risk

LEWISBURG – For new parents, reassurances their newborn is healthy provide comfort. At The Family Place, the obstetrics unit of Evangelical Community Hospital, reassurances come through a series of health screens.

One such screen is for congenital heart disease, a condition that is found in about 7,200 newborns each year. Through a simple test, cardiac defects can be detected 24 to 48 hours after birth, much sooner than the typical four or five days when symptoms normally start to present.

Using pulse oximetry, a non-invasive method of monitoring oxygen in blood cells, nurses in The Family Place can painlessly identify whether infants have symptoms of seven critical congenital heart defects.

“The screen is painless and gives us the opportunity to address issues through early detection. It doesn’t necessarily detect all cardiac defects, but it can identify an issue if there is one much earlier than in the past,” said Robbie Ravert, a 40-year registered nurse certified in inpatient obstetrics at The Family Place.

Done at the mother’s bedside on an awake and calm newborn, nurses place an oximeter or hemoglobin reading device on the right hand and take a reading, then move to either foot and take another reading. The hands and feet are well-oxygenated areas of the body. The oximeter shows how much oxygen is being transported to all areas of the body.

If the screen indicates the newborn has lower than normal levels of oxygen in their blood, or a positive reading, a cardiologist is called in to do a work-up and additional tests to get a better idea of what may be the cause. This often is done in consultation with a pediatrician.

The congenital heart disease screening is one of a panel of tests conducted on newborns including a hearing and a metabolic blood screen. All of the tests are mandated by the state Department of Health, but parents are given the option to decline after being educated on the purpose of the screen.

So far, The Family Place has seen no positive congenital heart disease screens on its newborns.