Ohio General Assembly Requires Newborn To Be Tested For Heart Problems


UPDATED: Monday June 24, 2013 5:15 PM

The Ohio General Assembly just passed a law that requires all newborns be tested for congenital heart problems.

It’s a simple test with a big payoff.  It's a test Riverside Hospital has used since last fall.

It's an oxygen saturation screening, to see how much oxygen newborns have in their blood.  

It's also called Pulse Oximetry Screening.  

Dr. Patrick Wall, the medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Riverside, says the test shows that a baby with too little oxygen might have a problem with the structure of the heart.

The screening is performed within 24 hours of birth.

"Untreated, these babies will die," Dr. Wall said. "Babies often times don't have symptoms while they're in the nursery with structural heart disease, and go home to become ill in a life-threatening manner."

The test is a simple one. There are no needles, no blood draws.  A nurse simply puts a medical sensor in a soft cloth, and wraps it around both the baby's right hand and right foot.  She clicks on a machine, and within five minutes, the numbers tell the story.

A reading of 95 percent or higher is normal. Below, 90, doctors take a closer look.

"This is not a definitive test.  What it does mean is that they will need an echo-cardiogram within 24 hours after not passing the test," Wall said.

Wall said if a baby does have a structural problem with the heart, usually surgeons can operate to fix it.

He added that while congenital heart problems are more common than other conditions for which newborns are tested, they still are rare.

Since Riverside started saturation screening of newborns, only one infant has tested positive and got the surgical repair.

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