The use of pulse oximetry to detect congenital heart disease

J Pediatr. 2003 Mar;142(3):268-72. doi: 10.1067/mpd.2003.87.


Objective: To evaluate whether pulse oximetry can be used as a screening test to detect congenital heart disease (CHD) in otherwise well newborns before nursery discharge.

Methods: Births at Lakeland Regional Medical Center (LRMC) who met inclusion criteria, had a single pulse oximeter reading before discharge. A normal reading was considered to be >94%. Abnormal readings were repeated on a different extremity and if still abnormal, an echocardiography was performed. The number of children with CHD and the number of echocardiograms were compared with the previous year at LRMC.

Results: There were 2114 infants enrolled, 88 echocardiograms (3.8%) were performed, and 43 were abnormal (yield = 48.9%), of which 12 required management (13.6%). The control group consisted of 2851 births, producing 108 echocardiograms (3.8%), 42 of which were abnormal (38.9%), and 13 required management (12.0%). No comparisons were significant. During both years, 3 children with cyanotic CHD were born. Routine pulse oximetry failed to detect a child with total anomalous pulmonary venous return. Not a single normal echocardiogram was generated by the study.

Conclusion: Routine pulse oximetry was nearly 100% specific for detecting cyanotic CHD; as a result there was no increase in the number of echocardiograms. Routine pulse oximetry did detect a child who might not have been detected otherwise but failed to detect one that should have been detected.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cyanosis
  • Echocardiography
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / diagnosis*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Neonatal Screening*
  • Oximetry*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity