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Pulse Oximetry: Infant Heart Test Could Save Lives, Study Finds

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A simple screening test could pinpoint babies who are at risk for heart defects and potentially save their lives, according to a new study.

The test -- called a pulse oximetry test -- consists of sensors placed on a baby's hand and foot to check the baby's blood oxygen level. If it's too low, a heart ultrasound is conducted to detect any congenital (present at birth) heart defects.

Fifty percent of babies with congenital heart defects are identified during pregnancy, but that percentage could go up to 92 percent if this blood oxygen test was utilized, BBC News reported.

The "test is simple, painless and quite cheap -- picks up warning signs even in babies that seem healthy," study researcher Dr. Andrew Ewer, M.D., told BBC News. it can also pick up other health problems, like infections and breathing problems.

Congenital heart defects are extremely common, affecting 1 in 100 babies in the United States. Most cases are treated with good results, with surgery, catheterization and/or medication, according to KidsHealth.org.

In the new study, conducted by British researchers at Birmingham University and Birmingham Women's Hospital and published in the journal The Lancet, more than 20,000 babies who seemed healthy at birth took the pulse oximetry test between February 2008 and January 2009.

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