Universal newborn screening and adverse medical outcomes: A historical note

Jeffrey P. Brosco, Michael I. Seider, Angela C. Dunn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Universal newborn screening programs for metabolic disorders are typically described as a triumph of medicine and public policy in the US over the last 50 years. Advances in science and technology, including the Human Genome Project, offer the opportunity to expand universal newborn screening programs to include many additional metabolic and genetic conditions. Although the benefits of such screening programs appear to outweigh their costs, some critics have claimed that historical examples of inadvertent harm ensuing from false-positive screening results and subsequent inappropriate medical treatment should make us wary of expanding universal newborn screening. In this essay, we report the results of a review of the published literature to assess whether the extension of screening from at risk populations to all newborns led to substantial morbidity and mortality from misguided medical treatment. We provide a historical overview of universal newborn screening programs in the United States, and then focus on six early NBS programs: congenital hypothyroidism, phenylketonuria, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, galactosemia, sickle cell disease, and maple syrup urine disease. Our comprehensive search of published sources did not reveal a widespread problem of harm ensuing from medical treatment of children with false positive screening test results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)262-269
Number of pages8
JournalMental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2006


  • Adverse events
  • History of medicine
  • Newborn screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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