What Is a Heel Stick Test?

Reviewed on 11/12/2020

What is a heel stick test?

The heel stick test is done on all newborns.
The heel stick test is done on all newborns.

The heel-stick test is a simple method to collect a newborn baby’s blood by pricking their heel to screen for certain diseases. It is usually performed as soon as possible after the baby’s birth.

During this test, a small amount of blood is collected with a capillary or on a filter paper. It is also called a newborn blood spot test.

The blood collected through this tiny heel prick can reveal around 50 rare illnesses, but also potentially life-threatening or crippling illnesses such as

Finding these early may allow the best chance for your baby to grow and thrive. Early treatment of these disorders, including changes in the diet, may prevent the disease from progressing further.

What is the appropriate age for a heel-stick test?

When a live birth occurs in a hospital or birthing center, the doctor collects the infant’s blood before discharge. The infant’s blood is collected 24 hours following birth and no later than when the infant is one week old. If the infant born in a hospital or birthing center is discharged before 48 hours after birth, a blood specimen shall be collected prior to discharge. In this case, the newborn must be tested again prior to one week of age. In case of home birthing, it is the mid-wife’s duty to get the blood sample 24 hours after the birth. If the doctor feels the first testing was in any way inadequate or improper, they may ask for a repeat test.

How can heel stick test safety be assessed?

It is safe to perform a heel-stick test on a baby’s inner or outer side of the sole of the foot, on the darker areas. The heel of the newborn is not used because it may damage the heel bone.

Due to the special technical requirement of this test, it is better to have trained staff that performs this test frequently. 

What are the risks?

  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Damage to the heel bone and soft tissues of the foot
  • Difficulties walking later in life (rare)


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