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Friday, 5 August 2011

Breakthrough in diagnosis for Congenital Heart Defects

knitted heart

In the news today it has been reported that a currently little used test on newborns could help discover congenital heart defects. The test measures the oxygen levels in the blood and is easy, quick and non-intrusive. Got to be good. The study looked at 20,000 babies and it detected 75% of all critical cases (those that result in death or surgery within 28 days of birth) and 49% of major congenital heart defects (causing death without surgery within 12 months).

At present, ultrasound scans examine the heart antenatally and newborns also have basic cardio/ respiratory tests. Some of the stats above account for babies whose heart defects were uncovered via these existing methods, but the total number of cases discovered still represents an impressive increase.

However, what is personally interesting is that the oxygen testing wrongly identified some babies as having congenital heart defects, although I haven't been able to find exact figures for this.

When in SCBU, Tiddler was diagnosed as having PDA, VSD, and something else- memory hazy- I can hardly remember this- we had so much else to worry about I remember saying out loud that we would deal with the heart stuff later. Crazy really to think I said that but we really did feel as though we were taking an hour at a time sometimes.

On discharge from SCBU, we asked our consulant whether Tiddler's could be a self-resolving issue and he said most probably not. Happily, and to cut a long story short this is not the case and Tiddler has no heart problems- a Cardiac Echo when she was a month old confirmed this.

I sometimes wonder whether with advances in medicine we get a bit too clever for ourselves, in our case ignorance would have been harmless... we would never have known about Tiddler's heart problems as they self resolved. In pregnancy I also had scares as a result of ultrasound scans and all was fine. Don't get me wrong, I am no Luddite. I love the NHS, I am thankful every day for the medical advancements that have kept Tiddler safe and obviously I see how fantastic any improvement in the diagnosis of heart defects is. I just worry that people think its a panacea. I suppose though the benefits clearly outweigh the risks of mis-diagnosis. It is better to diagnose too many children including some incorrectly than miss a diagnosis altogether I suppose? We are fortunate that Tiddler's cardiac issues resolved and we know it.

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