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Newborn screening

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Newborn screening

A test that uses a few drops of blood can detect medical problems early in a baby's life.

Newborn screening is the practice of testing all babies for certain disorders and conditions that can hinder their normal development. These disorders are not apparent at birth but develop later in infancy or childhood. Early detection and treatment can help prevent mental retardation, physical disability, or life-threatening illnesses.

Newborn screening usually begins with a blood test 24 to 48 hours after the baby is born. The test is performed by pricking the baby's heel to collect a few drops of blood. The blood is placed on a special piece of paper and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Parents can ask for a copy of the test results, which are sent to the baby's doctor or clinic. Sometimes a repeat blood test is required, particularly if the first test was done before the baby was 24 hours old. Because screening indicates only the possibility that an infant may have a particular disorder, additional testing is required to confirm abnormal screening results. If retesting is necessary, parents are notified within a few days of the first test. The blood test should be repeated as soon as possible.

Newborn screening varies from state to state. Some states screen for fewer than 10 disorders, while others test for 30 or more. Parents can ask their doctor about expanded (supplemental) screening if they live in an area that screens for a limited number of disorders.

To encourage uniform and comprehensive newborn screening throughout the United States, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) issued a draft report that recommends screening for 29 conditions. The recommendations include a test for hearing loss in newborns. The hearing test uses a small, soft microphone or earphone that is placed in the baby's ear.

Please use the links below to learn more about newborn screening.

Published: January 23, 2009