Re-examining the arterial cord blood gas pH screening criteria in neonatal encephalopathy

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Abstract

Objective

Screening criteria for neonatal encephalopathy remain a complex combination of subjective and objective criteria. We examine the utility of universal cord blood gas testing and mandatory encephalopathy evaluation for infants with pH ≤7.10 on umbilical cord arterial blood gas (cABG) as a single screening measure for timely identification of moderate/severe encephalopathy.

Design, setting, patients

Infants born at a single centre between 2008 and 2015, who were ≥36 weeks, had no congenital anomalies and had a cABG pH ≤7.10 were identified for a retrospective cohort study. Maternal/perinatal and patient factors were collected.

Results

27 028 infants were born during the study period; 412 met all inclusion criteria. Of those, 35/85 infants with pH <7.00 and 34/327 infants with pH between 7.00 and 7.10 had moderate/severe encephalopathy. Encephalopathy was identified on the basis of pH and examination alone (no other perinatal criteria present) in 5/35 and 13/34 infants in the two pH groups, respectively.

Results

A cABG pH threshold of ≤7.10 was associated with a sensitivity of 74.2% and a specificity of 98.7% for detection of moderate/severe encephalopathy. Based on these data, 25 infants with cABG pH between 7.00 and 7.10 will need to be screened to identify one neonate with moderate/severe encephalopathy, who might have otherwise been missed using conventional screening, a 15% increase in appropriate selection and treatment over current methods.

Conclusion

Universal cord blood gas screening with a pH threshold ≤7.10 and mandatory encephalopathy examination results in greater detection of infants with moderate/severe encephalopathy and timely initiation of therapeutic hypothermia.

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