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Your Child's Screening for Congenital Heart Defects with Pulse Oximetry

Pulse oximetry is a simple, painless, and quick test. It can be used to screen for certain heart defects that a baby is born with.

A baby's foot with a pulse oximetry sensor attached to a toe.

During the test, a sensor is put on your baby's hand and foot. The sensors are connected to a small device that measures the amount of oxygen in your baby's blood. This test can't screen for all heart defects. But it may be able to find seven types known as critical congenital heart defects.

Before The Procedure

The results are most accurate when a baby is awake, warm, and quiet. Movement and crying can affect the accuracy of the test. Your baby may be wrapped in swaddling clothes to keep warm. You may be asked to hold your baby to help keep him or her calm.

Remove any sock or mitten your baby is wearing. A health care provider may then clean and dry your baby's skin.

During The Procedure

The health care provider will attach a small sensor to your baby's hand and foot. This is usually a flexible, sticky strip placed on the skin. In some cases, two sensors are used. One is placed on the right hand and one is placed on the right foot. Comparing the results from the hand and foot is an important part of the test. The sensor or sensors are connected to a wire that leads to a small device. The device measures the amount of oxygen in your baby's blood.

After The Procedure

The health care provider will remove the sensor or sensors. Any sticky adhesive left on the skin will be cleaned off.

If the reading is below a certain number, your baby may need more tests. He or she may also need more tests if there is a significant difference between the hand and foot results. These additional tests may include an ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram). He or she may also need to be seen by a cardiac specialist.

It's important to remember that this test won't find all heart defects. It may not find one of the seven defects it's intended to find. Because of this, your baby will also need to have a comprehensive history and physical exam. In addition, you should make sure you keep all of your baby's doctor appointments. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 5/28/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.