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Go Ask Mom

Duke Medicine: Newborn screening

Posted March 22, 2010 9:24 p.m. EDT

Most babies are born healthy. But a small number have serious medical conditions that can only be detected by a blood test. So state-required screening of newborns is done to test for serious health problems. All the conditions require treatment before the baby would ever show any symptoms.

Dr. Alex Kemper of Duke Children's Primary Care explains that the testing began in the 1950s to screen for phenylketonuria or PKU. Now babies are screened for more than 29 conditions, including cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and, more recently, hearing impairment.

Newborns are routinely screened in North Carolina. It doesn't depend on your ability to pay. You won't need to do anything to ensure the tests are done in the hospital, though it's always good to make sure your baby was tested before you go home.

You'll learn the results of the hearing test before you leave the hospital. It will take about a week for the blood test results to be ready. Your pediatrician should receive the results of the test.

If your infant tests positive for a condition, it doesn't necessarily mean there's a problem. It does mean that more testing is required.

For more information about newborn screening, go to