2014 Pulse Ox Lobby Day Rhode Island

Congenital heart disease survivors and advocates in 2014 with then-governor Lincoln Chafee.

Rhode Island is now among the nearly 40 states that require hospitals to screen newborns for congenital heart defects using pulse oximetry.

The American Heart Association announced last Wednesday that a regulation adopted last August by the Rhode Island Department of Health will include pulse oximetry among the state’s mandatory newborn screening tests.

All the state’s newborns — about 11,000 each year — will get a pulse oximetry test beginning July 1.

“We appreciate the Department of Health’s commitment to protecting the Ocean State’s tiniest hearts,” said Brian Silver, M.D., president of the AHA’s Rhode Island board of directors. “Rhode Island is proud to join [other] states that already require this lifesaving screening.”

About 1 percent of babies are born with a congenital heart defect, about 40,000 a year out of four million live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 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.

Pulse oximetry is a highly effective, painless test that looks for life-threatening heart defects that might otherwise go undetected. It takes only 45 seconds and costs less than $4, according to the AHA.

The test measures blood oxygen levels using sensors placed on a newborn’s hand and foot. If levels are too low, more tests can be done.

The AHA and its partners continue to push for pulse ox screening mandates in states such as Hawaii and Colorado, where legislation is currently pending.

Photo courtesy of Megan Tucker