Today begins Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, a time to spread information and support further research and advocacy for the most common birth defect. 40,000 babies are born each year in the United States with congenital heart defects (CHD). To give you a clearer picture -- that's 1 in 100 newborns. Currently, there is no cure -- only repair and management. There is also a screening.
The critical congenital heard disease (CCHD) screening is a simple, non-invasive test that can be performed on newborns in the first few days of life, which is often the time before they go home from the hospital. Since the procedure is a "screening," its results do not show the presence of a congenital heart defect, but rather provide evidence that may require further testing. The biggest problem with CHDs is the fact that many of them are not detected until baby starts experiencing problems or symptoms. When caught early, a CHD is often treatable. It can also be treated later, but waiting can cause additional complications, making treatment more difficult.
The CCHD screening test involves the use of a pulse oximeter on baby's hand or wrist, and another one on one of baby's feet. A pulse oximeter is a painless tool that wraps around the finger, hand, wrist, or foot to measure the level of oxygen in the blood. When the CCHD screening test is performed, it will either result in a pass, fail, or "try again," which means it landed somewhere in between.
If your baby's CCHD screening shows an oxygen level that is out of the normal range, it does not necessarily mean that your baby has a congenital heart defect. It does indicate that further testing is necessary. Your baby's doctor will be notified and there will be further evaluation prior to leaving the hospital.
In many hospitals across the United States, the CCHD screening is part of the routine newborn screening that is done in the first 48 hours after birth. However, this is not the case for every state or each hospital. You can find out if your hospital offers and requires this screening during a hospital tour or by calling the administrative offices. To be sure your child receives the screening, request that it be performed during your hospital stay. If you're giving birth in a birth center or at home, talk to your midwife or pediatrician about newborn screenings, including the CCHD screening.