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When can a congenital heart defect be detected in a baby?

Congenital heart conditions are the most common type of birth defect of babies born in the US. While some congenital heart defects need minimal or no treatment, others require specialized medical care immediately after birth.

“Most major forms of congenital heart disease can be detected as early as 12 weeks into the pregnancy,” says Mark Sklansky, MD, chief of pediatric cardiology at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. “We have been able to dramatically improve the prognosis for these patients because of our ability to detect problems early and then develop an optimal delivery plan of care.”

Some congenital heart defects can be found before birth. Knowing if a baby has a heart defect before birth can help families plan for the future. Some heart defects can be found at birth, because they can cause a baby to have bluish tinted nails or lips or troubled breathing. Also, some heart defects potentially can be detected in babies soon after birth using pulse oximetry screening, which is a test to determine the amount of oxygen in the blood and pulse rate. Certain hospitals screen all babies soon after birth using pulse oximetry screening. However, pulse oximetry screening is not required in most states. Other heart defects might have no signs at birth and are not found until later in life, during childhood or even adulthood. If a health care provider (a doctor or nurse) thinks a congenital heart defect is present, the baby can have several tests to diagnose the defect.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.