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AIM—To investigate the performance of routine
neonatal and 6 week examinations for detecting congenital heart disease.
METHODS—A retrospective review of findings on clinical examination was conducted of a cohort of live born infants with congenital heart disease in one health region in 1987-94
RESULTS—Of 1590 babies with congenital heart disease, 523 (33%) presented before neonatal examination because of symptoms or non-cardiac abnormalities. 1061 underwent routine neonatal examination which was abnormal in 476 (45%), but only 170 were referred directly for diagnosis. Of 876 discharged with no diagnosis, 306 presented or died undiagnosed before 6 weeks. At 6 weeks 252 of 569 babies underwent a second routine examination which was abnormal in 164(65%).
CONCLUSIONS—Routine neonatal examination fails to detect more than half of babies with heart disease; examination at 6 weeks misses one third. A normal examination does not exclude heart disease. Babies with murmurs at neonatal or 6 week examinations should be referred for early paediatric cardiological evaluation which will result either in a definitive diagnosis of congenital heart disease or in authoritative reassurance of normal cardiac anatomy and function.