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Test for heart defects could save babies

5th August 2011

A new quick and cheap test has been identified that could save the lives of babies born with congenital heart defects.

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Writing in The Lancet, doctors say they have found that testing oxygen in the blood is better than other available checks.

Following the study of 20,055 new-born babies, the research team lead by Dr Andrew Ewer from Birmingham Women’s Hospital want to see the oxygen test used in hospitals across the UK.

Congenital heart defects such as holes between chambers in the heart and valve defects affects around one in every 145 babies and are detected by ultrasound during pregnancy or by listening to the heart after birth.

But the success rate for this is regarded as low.

As part of the study, doctors at six maternity hospitals in the UK used pulse oximeters to detect levels of oxygen in the blood.

They followed up cases where the levels were too low with a more detailed examination and found 75% of the most serious abnormalities. In combination with traditional methods, 92% of cases were detected.

Dr Ewer said: “It adds value to existing screening procedures and is likely to be useful for identification of cases of critical congenital heart defects.”

The UK National Screening Committee said the findings would be included in a review of the screening programme for infants.

Some hospitals in America are already using the test in this way.

Amy Thompson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Early and rapid detection is key for greater survival.”

 

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