A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics will not recommend using Pulse Oximetery to screen for Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs).
Despite repeated pleas from the CHD community (including a post on the Funky Heart blog) the authors of the scientific statement feel there are too many variables that can affect the test. They are not saying that the test should be abandoned completely; in fact they encourage facilities that are already performing the test to continue – and to compare results.
Pulse Oximetery is a simple, painless test that can be used to detect the presence of a Congenital Heart Defect in a newborn infant – but is it too simple? The Pulse Oximeter can detect low levels of oxygen in the blood, which is called Cyanosis and is a recognized sign of a complex heart defect. But only 25% of heart defects cause Cyanosis. And as simple as it is, the Oximeter can be misused.
If you want an accurate test, you have to standardize the the testing procedure. A child born in a hospital in Denver will naturally have a slightly lower PulseOx reading than a child born in Washington, DC – would we have to have a “Normalized PulseOx reading” for different sections of the country?
What we need is more statistical information about the accuracy of Pulse Oximeter testing, and perhaps an even better screening test. A test that is just as fast and just as inexpensive.
That’s one of the reasons that ongoing CHD research is so important.