Arterial oxygen tension was measured from radial artery samples in 276 infants referred for cardiological investigation. Values obtained during air breathing in infants with congenital heart disease showed considerable overlap between 'cyanotic' and 'acyanotic' groups, and are of limited diagnostic use. By contrast, values obtained while breathing oxygen in concentrations of over 80%, measured in 182 infants, allowed clear differentiation between these groups. All infants with acyanotic, but only 2 of 109 with cyanotic lesions, achieved an arterial oxygen tension of more than 150 mmHg. In the cyanotic group the response to oxygen breathing was significantly greater in common mixing situations and in the hypoplastic left heart syndrome than with either pulmonary outflow tract obstruction or transposition of the great arteries. Infants with transposition had a significantly lower mean arterial oxygen tension in air than infants with other forms of cyanotic congenital heart disease. Of 23 infants whose final diagnosis was primary lung disease but in whom cyanotic congenital heart disease had been suspected, 7 achieved arterial oxygen tensions of more than 150 mmHg during oxygen breathing, and on this basis cardiac catheterization was not performed. We therefore conclude that measurement of the arterial oxygen tension while breathing high concentrations of oxygen should be routinely performed in the initial assessment of sick infants with suspected congenital heart disease.
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