February is heart awareness month, a time when we encourage adults to reflect and make changes in their lives for healthier hearts. This is also a good time to raise awareness of congenital heart disease (CHD) and children who start their lives with heart conditions.
CHD is the most common birth defect, and it is present in eight of out of every 1,000 births. Some forms of CHD cause few problems in health, growth and development. Other forms are more critical, and if not detected within the first few hours of life, can lead to death.
Luckily there is a simple, noninvasive and painless screen — pulse oximetry —that can be performed at birth to detect CHDs which measures the levels of oxygen in the blood. Low levels of oxygen or a difference in oxygen saturation between upper and lower extremities are red flags for a heart problem. Without this screening, newborns with undetected and significant CHD could be discharged and would be at risk of getting very sick.
Unfortunately this test is not required at birth. Next week, I will be traveling to Madison along with several other colleagues from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin to join with the American Heart Association and Mended Little Hearts to educate our elected officials about CHD and the importance of the pulse oximetry screen.
I urge parents to ask their physicians about the availability of the screening because when detected early, babies with a CHD have a better prognosis. It’s important not to forget the smallest of hearts — the ones in a newborn child.
~ Stuart Berger, MD; medical director of Herma Heart Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin; professor and chief of Pediatric Cardiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin; and medical director of Project ADAM
Herma Heart Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is one of the nation’s top programs for medical and surgical treatment of congenital heart defects and heart disease in children.