What Is the Neonatal Heel Prick?

What Is the Neonatal Heel Prick?

Last update: 12 July, 2018

The neonatal heel prick is a very important test performed on newborn babies. This test allows for the detection of certain illnesses before their symptoms arise. Discover more about this routine test in the article below.

When a child is born, the hospital carries out several tests. One of these tests includes the neonatal heel prick, which takes place between 48 and 72 hours old.

The purpose of this test is to detect innate metabolic defects that can affect the little one’s development. The timing of the test allows doctors to diagnose these defects before their symptoms appear.

The neonatal heel prick involves the extraction of a few drops of blood. Early clinical analysis of this blood sample allows for the detection of congenital illnesses that affect the endocrine or metabolic system.

It consists of pricking the child’s heel quickly and superficially. A trained medical professional quickly pricks the child’s heel and places the extracted blood on a special card. Then, he or she sends the blood to the lab for analysis.

What does the neonatal heel prick involve?

As mentioned above, the test involves a quick pricking of the newborn’s heel in order to extract blood. The nurse carries out the process quickly, and the prick is superficial, to minimize the child’s pain.

The nurse then allows the blood to drop onto a piece of paper called a Guthrie card. Finally, the nurse will then send the blood sample to the laboratory for analysis .

After three weeks, the results of the neonatal heel prick will be ready. In the case that the first blood sample wasn’t sufficient, a nurse will need to repeat the blood extraction for another test.

Despite care and precaution taken by health professionals, babies are likely to react to the pain and cry out. Therefore, when possible, we recommend that the mother be nearby in order to calm and console her child immediately.

What Is the Neonatal Heel Prick?

What happens if the test comes back positive?

Keep in mind that the results will not be ready for about 6 to 8 weeks. The results will make up part of your child’s permanent medical history and should be on hand for any future visits.

If the results come back positive, your child’s doctor will order further testing to confirm the results. You’ll need to go back to the hospital or clinic in order to repeat the extraction and testing.

If further testing confirms the positive results, then parents should contact a center that specializes in metabolic diseases. The medical professionals there will help and guide the family the best way possible.

Treatment will depend on the specific disease that the tests reveal. For example, in the case of hyperthyroidism or congenital adrenal hyperplasia, the baby will need hormone replacements for life.

However, if the diagnosis is hemoglobinopathy, then the child will only need preventative treatment against certain infections.

“A baby is something you carry inside you for 9 months, in your arms for 3 years and in your heart until the day you die”
—Mary Mason—

What illnesses does the neonatal heel prick diagnose?

The majority of the illnesses that the neonatal heel prick detects are congenital metabolic defects. Even if these defects present no specific symptoms, they can alter and compromise the baby’s correct development.

Of course, when dealing with newborns, most of  the detected illnesses are very infrequent. Therefore, it’s very important to detect them early on in order to intervene before the symptoms appear.

What Is the Neonatal Heel Prick?

Keep in mind that early diagnosis of these illnesses doesn’t mean that your baby can’t enjoy a normal life. Below is a list of the diseases that a neonatal heel prick can detect:

  • Hemoglobinopathies, such as sickle cell anemia.
  • Cystic fibrosis.
  • Congenital metobolic defects related to the metabolism of fatty acids, carbohydrates and amino acids, including galactosemia y phenylketonuria.
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
  • Congenital hyperthyroidism.
  • Infections, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and toxoplasmosis.

To conclude, the neonatal heel prick is an essential test that allows for early detection of congenital diseases. The test makes it possible to diagnose any sort of complication before symptoms appear.

If you’re a brand new mother, remember that you should be nearby to comfort your baby when the nurse carries out the test. Remember that the test is very beneficial, since it helps guarantee your child’s health .

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. Pruebas en el recién nacido: prueba del talón y prueba de audición. Información general de los padres. 2017.
  • Newborn bloodspot screening. Victorian Agency for Health Information. Safer Care Victoria.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.