All new babies should be routinely screened for life-threatening heart defects using a simple and painless test, researchers say. The pulse oximetry test measures blood oxygen levels in newborns using a small skin sensor on the hands or feet.
In a study of 20,000 babies in the West Midlands, the technique detected 53 cases of major congenital heart disease, of which 18 had been missed by the ultrasound tests that are now in use. It identified three-quarters of critical cases and when combined with physical examinations and ultrasound there was a 92 per cent identification rate, according to findings published in The Lancet.
Congenital heart defects, a major cause of infant death in the developed world, affect one newborn in 145 in the UK. Dr Andrew Ewer, of the University of Birmingham, said: "We would like to see all babies being routinely tested. We have enough evidence to say that pulse oximetry screening should be incorporated into everyday clinical practice."