London: A simple screening test could help detect life-threatening heart defects in babies at birth, says a new study published in `The Lancet` journal.
The pulse oximetry test measures blood oxygen levels in newborns with a small skin sensor placed on a hand or foot.
The test identifies some babies with congenital heart defects which would otherwise be missed by doctors, say researchers.The test involves putting a small sensor on the hand and foot of a baby to check the blood oxygen level. Those with low levels are then sent for a heart ultrasound.
Identifying the problems early on will allow doctors to correct or reduce them with surgery, whereever possible, or prescribe medication, the British media reported.
In the study, more than 20,000 babies born in Britain were examined. The tests, conducted between February 2008 and January 2009, detected 53 cases of major congenital heart disease, 24 of which were critical.
In 35 cases, congenital heart defects were already suspected after ultrasound examinations. But some 18 cases identified by pulse oximetry were not picked up by ultrasound.
The test spotted three-quarters of all critical cases. When it was combined with ultrasound and physical examination, the detection rate rose to 92 per cent and no babies died from undiagnosed problems.
Lead researcher Andrew Ewer of University of Birmingham, said the test was simple, painless and non-invasive, and can be usually performed within 24 hours of birth.
He said: "A small probe is put on the baby`s hand and then on the foot, the machine is switched on and you obtain a reading. That`s it. It takes longer to undress the baby than it does to do the test. This study has shown conclusively that this test is advantageous."