Newborn exam

Newborn Screening Checks for Possible Heart Defects

A new Texas law  requires all newborns to be screened for critical congenital heart defects before leaving the hospital. This simple heart health screening — called pulse oximetry — is performed at the mother’s bedside, is non-invasive and only takes about 45 seconds.

Newborn babyTexas Health Resources hospitals have been performing the test on every newborn since 2012.

“If we can catch critical congenital heart disease early, surgery can be performed to help stabilize the baby’s heart before he or she becomes sick,” said Dr. Mary Frances Lynch, neonatologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. “Doing this preventive screening for our babies is the right thing to do.”

Critical congenital heart disease is one of the most common types of birth defects, according to the American Heart Association. Babies with the condition can appear perfectly healthy in the hospital since symptoms often don’t appear for days after birth, Dr. Lynch said.

If left undetected, infants can develop shock and die suddenly.

The screening is performed when a baby is 24 to 48 hours old. Sensors placed on the baby’s skin read the amount of oxygen in the blood and pulse rate. Low levels of oxygen in the blood can signal a potential heart problem and the need for additional testing.

“The signs of congenital heart defects are very subtle sometimes,” said Dr. Victor Levy, neonatal cardiac intensivist on the medical staff at Texas Health Fort Worth. “When this test was developed it added so much to the diagnosis and evaluation of patients. This is a cost-effective way to avoid such a preventable disease.”

For more information on women and infants services at Texas Health hospitals, visit

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