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Congenital heart disease (CHD) is the most common birth defect. Infants with CHS have abnormal structure to their heart, which creates abnormal blood flow patterns. Approximately eight of every 1,000 infants born have a form of CHD.
Some forms of CHD cause no or very few problems in the health, growth and development of an infant. Critical CHD includes a more serious form of CHD and usually requires intervention in the first year of life. Critical CHD can bring a significant risk of morbidity and mortality if not diagnosed soon after birth. Failing to detect critical CHD while a baby is still in the newborn nursery may lead to critical events, such as cardiogenic shock or death.
Every infant at Valley View Hospital is screened for CHD using a simple test called pulse ox, according to local pediatrician Dr. Becca Percy, who practices at Pediatric Partners in Glenwood Springs. Pulse ox can help identify infants with critical CHD that may have low levels of oxygen in their blood and help diagnose the infants before they becomes sick. The test is done using a machine called a pulse oximeter, with sensors placed on the baby’s skin. The test is painless and takes only a few minutes.
“Pulse ox screening does not replace a complete history and physical examination, which sometimes can detect a critical CHD before oxygen levels in the blood become low,” said Percy. “Pulse ox screening, therefore, should be used along with the physical examination.”
Some CHDs may be diagnosed during pregnancy using a special type of ultrasound called a fetal echocardiogram, which creates pictures of the heart of the developing baby. However, some heart defects are not found during pregnancy. In these cases, heart defects may be detected at birth or as the child ages.
Some babies born with a critical CHD appear healthy at first, and they may be sent home before their heart defect is detected. These babies are at risk of having serious complications within the first few days or weeks of life, and often require emergency care.
Newborn screening is a tool that can identify some of these babies so they can receive prompt care and treatment. Timely care may prevent disability or death early in life.
“It’s lifesaving if we can pick it up early,” Percy said. “Often an ultrasound can pick up CHD at 17 weeks, then the fetus can be followed closely. We hope CHD can be picked up during pregnancy but if not, that’s why we do the screen.”
For more information, contact Dr. Percy at Pediatric Partners, 970-947-9999.