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Newborn Screening for Critical Congenital Heart Defects (CCHD) 

HeartCongenital Heart Defects occur when a baby’s heart or blood vessels do not form properly during the pregnancy.  Heart defects are the most common birth defect.  Most babies are born with normal hearts, but approximately 9/1,000 are found to have some form of heart defect.  There are many types of heart defects ranging from mild to severe or critical.  Approximately 25% of babies with heart defects have a critical condition.  A critical congenital heart defect (CCHD) requires prompt diagnosis and treatment for the best outcome.  Babies with undetected critical congenital heart defects are at risk for death or significant disability.

New Jersey was one of the 1st states to implement CCHD screening in newborns.  Beginning August 31, 2011, birthing hospitals in New Jersey are required to screen newborns for CCHD before discharge to home. Serious problems can be prevented if CCHD is found shortly after birth.  Read the story of the first baby saved by CCHD screening in New Jersey.

Screening for critical heart defects is important because newborns with heart problems can look healthy.  Screening can identify some infants with CCHD before they get sick or show signs of heart problems.  The screening is done as a simple bedside test using pulse oximetry.  A small sensor is usually placed on a baby’s right hand and one foot to measure the oxygen saturation level in the blood.  Infants who do not pass the screening can then receive further testing to determine if there is a problem.  Those who are found to have CCHD can start receiving care right away.

It is possible for a baby to pass the screening test and still have a CCHD.  Not all defects are picked up on the pulse oximetry screening.  Some babies may not show signs or symptoms until later.  Signs of heart problems in infants include sweating around the head during feeding, slow growth, poor weight gain, irritability, fast breathing, and bluish or pale skin color.

Commissioner O’Dowd Video on Newborn Screening

More information about congenital heart defects and screening is available at:

For questions about CCHD screening in New Jersey contact:

Regina Grazel, MSN, RN, BC, APN-C
Project Coordinator, New Jersey Department of Health
Critical Congenital Heart Defects (CCHD) Screening Program
Special Child Health and Early Intervention Services
New Jersey Department of Health
P.O. Box 364, 6th floor
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0364
(609) 984-0755


Department of Health

P. O. Box 360, Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
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Last Modified: Monday, 28-Jul-14 09:35:11