Diagnostic values of the femoral pulse palpation test

Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2020 Jul;105(4):375-379. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2019-317066. Epub 2019 Oct 9.


Objectives: To calculate diagnostic values of the femoral pulse palpation to detect coarctation of the aorta or other left-sided obstructive heart anomalies in newborn infants.

Design: Population-based cohort study.

Setting: Stockholm-Gotland County 2008-2012.

Patients: All singleton live-born infants without chromosomal trisomies, at ≥35 gestational weeks, followed-up until 1-2 years of age.

Main outcome measures: Diagnostic values and ORs for the femoral pulse test and subsequent diagnosis of coarctation of the aorta or left-sided obstructive heart malformation.

Results: Among the 118 592 included infants, 432 had weak or absent femoral pulses at the newborn examination. Seventy-eight infants were diagnosed with coarcation of the aorta and 48 with other left-sided obstructive heart malformations. The diagnostic values for the femoral pulse palpation test to detect coarctation of the aorta were: sensitivity: 19.2%, specificity: 99.6, positive predictive value: 3.5% and negative predictive value: 99.9%. For left-sided heart malformations: sensitivity: 8.3%, specificity: 99.6%, positive predictive value: 0.9% and negative predictive value: 100%. Sensitivity for coarctation of the aorta increased from 16.7% when examined at <12 hours of age to 30.0% at ≥96 hours of age.

Conclusions: The femoral pulse test to detect coarctation of the aorta and left-sided heart malformations has limited sensitivity, whereas specificity is high. As many infants with life-threatening cardiac malformations leave the maternity ward undiagnosed, further efforts are necessary to improve the diagnostic yield of the routine newborn examination.

Keywords: coarctation of the aorta; congenital malformations; newborn; screening.

MeSH terms

  • Aortic Coarctation / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Femoral Artery / physiology
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neonatal Screening / methods*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulse Wave Analysis / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity