Study: Aspen infants ‘normal’ despite lower oxygen levels
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – It’s normal for infants born at higher altitudes to have lower oxygen levels in their bloodstreams than do newborns born at sea level, or even in Denver, according to the results of a research study that included babies born in Aspen.
Tracie Detwiler, a neonatal nurse practitioner at Yampah Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, was in Aspen Thursday to discuss the research results with the public and members of the Aspen Valley Hospital medical staff, as well as during a taping of the hospital’s “Medicine in the Mountains” program, which airs on GrassRoots TV.
Between August 2008 and January 2009, 43 newborns at AVH were tested two or three times before their release to check their oxygen saturation levels. In all, the study involved more than 800 infants, born in Aspen, Vail and Steamboat Springs, as well as at two hospitals in Provo, Utah, and one in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
The study was done under the auspices of Brigham Women’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, but it was Detwiler who instigated the study after she began to wonder what “normal” oxygen levels were in babies born at altitude. It seemed as though Yampah was sending home babies on oxygen, though they appeared to be healthy, because their oxygen levels were considered low. They were low by Denver standards, she noted.
When Detwiler looked for data on the topic, she discovered a gap – a lack of information on infants born at altitudes like Aspen’s, which is at about 7,900 feet.
The average oxygen saturation level among Aspen’s participants in the study was 93 to 94 percent. A saturation level of 100 percent would mean an infant’s blood was carrying as much oxygen as possible. A study at sea level, in Boston, indicated the normal level there was about 97 percent.
“I think you can say, definitely Aspen is different from sea level,” Detwiler said.
The results of the overall study suggest newborns with lower oxygen saturation levels than those born at sea level are nonetheless healthy, Detwiler said. The conclusions, however, could have greater implications.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Heart Association are considering 95 percent saturation as the trigger point for expensive testing of newborns to check for critical congenital heart defects, according to Detwiler. The study results suggest that level is too high for infants born at altitude, as newborns born in places such as Aspen often have a saturation level lower than 95 percent.
The next step is figuring out what should be considered “normal” in high-altitude environments, she said.
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