Study Supports Screening Babies for Heart-Rhythm Defect

Dangerous 'long QT syndrome' is often mistaken for SIDS, experts say

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THURSDAY, July 13, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Routine electrocardiogram (ECG) screening for newborns would save many lives by identifying a potentially deadly genetic condition called long QT syndrome, Italian researchers report.

They are recommending that health-care providers throughout Europe screen babies when they're about 3 to 4 weeks old.

Long QT syndrome (LQTS) is a disorder of the electrical rhythm of the heart and is a leading cause of sudden death in children and young adults. LQTS-related deaths in infants are often mislabeled as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to background information in the article.

The researchers recently completed a prospective study of more than 45,000 infants. Those findings have not yet been published. However, the researchers also did a cost-analysis of ECG screening for LQTS, and concluded that it is cost-effective. The findings of the cost analysis study were published online in the European Heart Journal.

"Our study clearly demonstrates that neonatal ECG screening is highly cost-effective and that a significant number of lives can be saved -- possibly up to 230 to 250 a year, for example, in the 15 countries of the pre-enlarged EU (European Union) -- for an objectively small cost," researcher leader Professor Peter J. Schwartz, chairman of the cardiology department of the University of Pavia, said in a prepared statement.

"The time is ripe for those involved in the administration of public health to consider the implementation by the [Italian] National Health Services of such a (screening) program, with the objective of reducing the number of preventable sudden cardiac deaths in infants, children and young adults," Schwartz said.

For example, out of 550,000 babies born each year in Italy, about 220 have LQTS. Without screening, 13.5 percent (30) of them would die early. Screening would reduce that to 3.2 percent (7), meaning that 23 lives would be saved each year, the researchers said.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about long QT syndrome.

SOURCE: European Society of Cardiology, news release, July 12, 2006

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