Pulse oximetry screening at 4 hours of age to detect critical congenital heart defects

Dorothy M Sendelbach, Gregory L Jackson, Susanna S Lai, David E Fixler, Elizabeth K Stehel, William D Engle
Pediatrics 2008, 122 (4): e815-20

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this prospective study was to assess the feasibility and reliability of pulse oximetry screening to detect critical congenital heart defects in a newborn nursery.

METHODS: The study was performed in a large urban hospital with an exclusively inborn population. Stable neonates who had a gestational age of >or=35 weeks and birth weight of >or=2100 g and in whom a critical congenital heart defect was not suspected were admitted to the newborn nursery. When the 4-hour pulse oximetry reading was <96%, pulse oximetry was repeated at discharge, and when the pulse oximetry reading remained at persistently <96%, echocardiography was performed.

RESULTS: Of 15299 admissions to newborn nursery during the 12-month study period, 15233 (99.6%) neonates were screened with 4-hour pulse oximetry. Pulse oximetry readings were >or=96% for 14374 (94.4%) neonates; 77 were subsequently evaluated before discharge for cardiac defects on the basis of clinical examination. Seventy-six were normal, and 1 had tetralogy of Fallot with discontinuous pulmonary arteries. Pulse oximetry readings at 4 hours were <96% in 859 (5.6%); 768 were rescreened at discharge, and 767 neonates had a pulse oximetry reading at >or=96%. One neonate had persistently low pulse oximetry at discharge; echocardiography was normal. Although 3 neonates with a critical congenital heart defect had a 4-hour pulse oximetry reading of <96%, all developed signs and/or symptoms of a cardiac defect and received a diagnosis on the basis of clinical findings, not screening results.

CONCLUSIONS: All neonates with a critical congenital heart defect were detected clinically, and no cases of critical congenital heart defect were detected by pulse oximetry screening. These results indicate that pulse oximetry screening does not improve detection of critical congenital heart defects above and beyond clinical observation and assessment. Our findings do not support a recommendation for routine pulse oximetry screening in seemingly healthy neonates.

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