New Pulse Ox law takes effect starting Thursday

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Signed by Governor Jindal during the last legislative session, the new pulse ox law will go into effect on Thursday, August 15. This new state law requires a simple and inexpensive test for all Louisiana newborns before they are discharged from the hospital. This test can easily identify previously undiagnosed heart defects. Pulse oximetry screenings will provide a vital tool for Louisiana physicians to diagnose potentially life threatening heart conditions in newborns.

"Congenital heart defects are the number one killer of infants with birth defects," says Dr. Jason Turner, pediatric cardiologist at Children's Hospital in New Orleans. "This law creates a procedure that all hospitals must follow. We are giving little hearts across the state the opportunity for early detection and treatment."

Many Louisiana hospitals are already performing this preventative screening but soon no matter where a baby is born in the state they will receive the same screening, pulse oximetry. Physicians and hospitals have recognized the benefits of pulse oximetry and many hospitals have independently implemented the test as a routine newborn screening.

Requiring that all newborns babies in the state of Louisiana receive a pulse oximetry screening prior to going home from the hospital is the goal of a bill recently passed in legislative session, sponsored by Rep. Ledricka Thierry-D-Opelousas and backed by the American Heart Association. By placing a noninvasive monitor on a baby's right hand and either foot, the reading can provide doctors with early warning signs of low oxygen levels in the baby's blood stream, which could mean possible heart defects. By detecting heart disease early, health professionals can ensure that treatment can begin immediately and often times before symptoms can become life threatening.

The pulse oximetry test can be done in combination with the routine newborn screening tests. A common misconception is that ultrasounds detect all defects. The detection rate varies on several factors but is somewhere around 23 to 60 percent, averaging at about 40 percent, according to Children's National Hospital Staff. A diagnostic gap exists that allows 25 percent of babies to go home undetected. Pulse oximetry screening closes that gap to four percent.

The state average for the cost of the pulse oximetry test is $2.

The newborn exam is and will always remain a valuable tool in detecting newborn heart issues, but some defects are undetectable via the exam. Studies have found that as many as 1 in 3 babies with a life-threatening defect leave the hospital undetected. The routine exam is not enough. But, now with the pulse oximetry test as a part of the newborn screening, the hearts of Louisiana newborns will be more thoroughly checked before leaving the hospital.

Congenital Heart Disease is No. 1 Killer of Infants with Birth Defects 1

Congenital heart defects are structural abnormalities of the heart that are present at birth. These defects range in severity from simple holes or murmurs to severe malformations, such as the complete absence of one or more chambers or valves. Some critical congenital heart defects can cause severe and life-threatening symptoms which require intervention within the first 24 to 72 hours of life.

Pulse Oximetry Screening Effective at determining life-threatening Heart Defects2

Pulse Oximetry Screening is a non-invasive test that estimates the percentage of hemoglobin in blood that is saturated with oxygen. When performed on newborns in the delivery center it is effective at detecting life-threatening defects which otherwise go undetected by current screening methods. The test takes 2 minutes or less and can be done by a technician; a Nurse or Doctor is not required for the test.

Present Detection Methods Miss More than 50 percent of All Newborn Cases3

Current methods for detecting congenital heart defects generally include prenatal ultrasound screening and repeated clinical examinations can identify many affected newborns. However, these screenings alone, identify less than half of all cases, and critical heart defect cases are often missed during routine clinical exams performed prior to a newborns discharge from a birthing facility.

About the American Heart Association

Founded in 1924, we're the nation's oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. To help prevent, treat and defeat these diseases — America's No. 1 and No. 4 killers — we fund cutting-edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocate to protect public health. To learn more or join us in helping all Americans, call 1-800-AHA-USA1 or visit