pulse oxIowa joins a growing list of states that are requiring hospitals to screen newborns for congenital heart defects using pulse oximetry.

The state’s new regulation requires all Iowa hospitals to use the test, screening more than 27,000 babies each year.

Pulse oximetry is a low-cost, highly-effective and painless bedside test that looks for life-threatening heart defects that might otherwise go undetected. It can be completed in as little as 45 seconds at less than $4 per baby, according to the American Heart Association. It tests blood oxygen levels using sensors placed on a newborn’s hand and foot.

If levels are too low, more tests can be ordered.

Inspired by her late son Jonathan who was born with a congenital heart defects, Sara Lockie of Ankeny, Iowa, successfully advocated for legislation requiring Iowa hospitals to use pulse oximetry to test all newborns for congenital heart defects.

“This is such a simple test, it’s kind of a no brainer that this could be good for babies,” Lockie said.

Iowa joins Texas, Nebraska and Pennsylvania as the most recent states to require pulse oximetry testing. The testing is now required by more than 35 states.

A study in New Jersey, the first state requiring pulse oximetry testing, showed the test is working. Researchers found that during a three-year period it predicted unsuspected critical congenital heart defects in 13 of 183 babies who failed the screen. Babies with these defects have a significantly higher risk of disability or death.

About nine of every 1,000 babies are born with congenital heart defects — the leading cause of infant deaths in the United States — and 25 percent of those are critical defects.

Congenital heart defects are the No. 1 birth defect in the United States and the leading killer of infants with birth defects, according to the AHA. These defects are heart problems that are present at birth, including holes in the heart, narrowed or leaky valves and malformed or missing vessels and heart chambers.

For more information: