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Analysis recommends pulse oximetry for all newborns

Wednesday May 2, 2012
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A meta-analysis has found what researchers called "overwhelming" evidence that all babies should be offered screening for heart defects at birth.

Pulse oximetry, a noninvasive test, is accurate and effective, the researchers found. The test measures the amount of oxygen circulating in the bloodstream using a sensor placed on a thin part of the body such as a newbornís foot.

Researchers in the United Kingdom and Spain examined 13 studies involving 230,000 babies. They found that pulse oximetry successfully detected heart defects in 76.5% of cases and was most accurate when used to screen babies about 24 hours after birth.

The researchers said the test could easily be combined with existing newborn screening, which checks for less common types of birth defects. The test hardly ever generated false positives, thus minimizing unnecessary stress for parents.

An ultrasound scan conducted at about 20 weeks gestation can detect some heart defects, the researchers said, but the test misses many cases.

"This study is really important because by including such large numbers of babies, we can show that pulse oximetry is effective at picking up defects without misdiagnosing healthy babies," study author Shakila Thangaratinam, PhD, a clinical senior lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London, said in a news release.

"Previous research also indicates that it is cost-effective. This study is the best evidence yet that using pulse oximetry to screen for heart defects should be included in the newborn health checks."

The study appears in the May 2 issue of The Lancet. To read the data and access the study via subscription or purchase, visit http://bit.ly/K94tvd.


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