New Jersey to begin screening all newborns for congenital heart defects

    Later this month, New Jersey will require all newborns to be screened for critical congenital heart defects.  It’s one of only two states to mandate the test.

    Congenital heart disease is responsible for more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defect.  A U.S. Health and Human Services advisory committee is recommending a screening test to identify the most severe cases.  It’s called pulse oximetry.

    “There are babies going home from nurseries with undiagnosed critical congenital heart disease,” said Terry Anderson, a pediatric cardiologist based in New Jersey for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  “Those are the ones this screening program is aiming for.”

    Only three in one thousand babies have these heart defects.  Anderson says they often escape detection even by a fetal ultrasound. 

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    “If diagnosed before the babies are discharged home from the hospital, then proper management, including surgery or catheter insertion can be performed to hopefully prevent these babies from having increased morbidity and mortality,” said Anderson.

    Based on the federal findings, individual states will decide whether to add this testing to their panel of newborn assessments. New Jersey’s law requiring that all babies get screened kicks in August 31st.  

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