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This Newborn Screening Test Determines Your Baby's Risks For Heart Defects
PHOTO BY @praisaeng/iStock
  • When you give birth at a hospital, there are numerous tests that your baby must undergo before you are both discharged, as part of the mandatory Newborn Screening Test program. These include tests for congenital hypothyroidism (CH), congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), phenylketonuria (PKU), glucose-6- phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency, galactosemia (GAL) and maple syrup urine disease (MSUD).

    A previous article in SmartParenting.com.ph said having these tests done on your baby is crucial because, while he or she may appear healthy at birth, most of the disorders detected in newborns are chemical problems in the body that won’t have physical manifestations initially read.

    However, one test that is sorely missing (and yet to be included in the Philippine Newborn Screening) from this set is the pulse oximetry test.

    Newborn pulse oximetry screening

    In the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends adding critical congenital heart diseases (CCHD) in newborn screening “because early infancy intervention is essential for babies with CCHD.”

    “Studies from Europe and the United States have found that CCHD screening can be an effective way to detect serious health problems in otherwise well-appearing newborns. In addition to detecting CCHD, screening with pulse oximetry can detect other serious medical problems, including sepsis or pneumonia.”

    AAP adds, “The only babies who do not need to be screened are those who are already known to have CCHD, such as those identified by prenatal ultrasound or who have already had an echocardiogram.”

    What other parents are reading

    The pulse oximetry screening measures the level of oxygen in the blood. It uses a device called the pulse oximeter, which has sensors that are attached to the baby’s right hand and either foot. The test is quick, painless, and can give you an insight into your baby’s heart health. 


    According to statistics, for every 100 babies born, 1 would have a congenital heart disease. 25% of those babies will develop a critical congenital heart defect.

    The pulse oximetry test can detect unusually low levels of oxygen in your baby’s blood even before it starts to manifest. Early detection means early intervention and management.

    What other parents are reading

    If baby tests positive on the pulse oximetry test

    Don’t panic if the pulse oximetry screening results shows some issues. What this means is that further tests need to be done to ascertain what is causing it. Your doctor may suggest blood chemistry, radiography, or other tests. Bear in mind, too, that a pulse oximeter has room for some inaccuracies, so don’t immediately equate these results to your baby having a heart defect.

    If baby tests negative on the pulse oximetry test

    In the same manner, if tests come out negative on the pulse oximetry screening, parents should continue to observe their child, particularly the following symptoms:

    • excessive sleepiness
    • unusually fast heartbeat or difficulty breathing
    • baby’s appetite
    • paleness or bluish color on the lips
    • poor weight gain

    The pulse oximetry test only shows the levels of oxygen in your baby’s blood at the time the test is taken. Since some conditions do not show any signs until later, it is best to be vigilant and monitor baby’s health closely.

    This article was updated on October 29, 2019, 9:00 a.m.

    What other parents are reading

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