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Undiagnosed infant Congenital Heart Disease | Daytona Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Newborn Death from Congenital Heart Disease

Modern medicine has yet to eliminate the tragedy of infant mortality, but new technology and procedures have the potential if used correctly to reduce a large percentage of newborn deaths. Undiagnosed congenital heart disease (CHD) is responsible for almost 40 percent of newborn deaths. But strides are being made to improve the detection of this potentially deadly disease in time to provide effective treatment.

For every 700,000 live births, 4,500 newborns will suffer from CHD. The room for improvement lies with the 25 percent of those CHD babies whose condition goes undetected. Any improvement in diagnosing pediatric CHD is welcome news because of the 25 percent of infants whose condition goes undetected, 30 will die before any cardiac diagnosis is made. Fortunately, Florida experiences better outcomes than the nation at large. Only about 10 percent of Florida newborns with CHD are undiagnosed and very few of them die.

Doctors can use two types of technology to combat this problem. Fetal cardiac ultrasounds have been shown to reduce the misdiagnosis of one very serious form of CHD (hypoplastic left heart) to less than 5 percent. Unfortunately not all types of CHD are as detectable by fetal cardiac ultrasounds. Another very serious type of CHD (transposition of the great arteries) remains undiagnosed in about 75 percent of cases.

While fetal cardiac ultrasound can be very effective, most fetuses in the United States do not receive them unless the obstetric ultrasound indicates a need for one.

The second technology doctors can use to diagnose CHD is pulse oximetry which detects low oxygen levels in the blood. A baby a bluish hue is likely suffering from low blood oxygen, but not all types of CHD cause babies to exhibit a blue skin tone. Currently, the jury is still out on whether pulse oximetry can improve diagnosis of CHD. One study found that routine pulse oximetry reduced undiagnosed CHD from 25 to 4.4 percent of CHD cases. However, other studies found more mixed results with about a 50 percent misdiagnosis rate.

As a result of the difficulty in diagnosing CHD and the limited use of technology helpful in doing so, children with CHD will continue to go undiagnosed. A small number will even die as a result. Whether their medical course constitutes malpractice depends on how they were followed both as fetuses and as newborns, what tests they received, and what the parents understood the tests results would mean. Certainly, physicians should emphasize that neither a fetal echocardiogram nor a pulse oximeter test at the time of discharge removes the possibility of CHD.

For more on child safety issues, see the library of articles by Daytona Beach child injury attorney.


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