Hyperbilirubinemia and Jaundice | Diagnosis & Treatments

How is hyperbilirubinemia diagnosed?

The timing of the appearance of jaundice helps with the diagnosis. Jaundice appearing in the first 24 hours is quite serious and usually requires immediate treatment. When jaundice appears on the second or third day, it is usually “physiologic.” However, it can be a more serious type of jaundice.

When jaundice appears on the third day to the first week, it may be due to an infection. Later appearance of jaundice, in the second week, is often related to issues with breast milk feedings, but may have other causes.

Diagnostic procedures for hyperbilirubinemia may include:

  • direct and indirect bilirubin levels: these reflect whether the bilirubin is bound with other substances by the liver so that it can be excreted (direct), or is circulating in the blood circulation (indirect)
  • red blood cell counts
  • blood type and testing for Rh incompatibility (Coomb’s test)

How we treat hyperbilirubinemia

Treatment depends on many factors, including the cause of the hyperbilirubinemia and the level of bilirubin. The goal is to keep the level of bilirubin from increasing to dangerous levels. Treatment may include:

  • Phototherapy: Since bilirubin absorbs light, jaundice and increased bilirubin levels usually decrease when your baby is exposed to special blue spectrum lights. Phototherapy may take several hours and it is used throughout the day and night. Your baby's position is changed to allow all of the skin to be exposed to the light. Your baby's eyes must be protected and the temperature monitored during phototherapy. We check your baby's blood levels to monitor if the phototherapy is working.
  • Fiberoptic blanket: Another form of phototherapy is a fiberoptic blanket placed under your baby. This may be used alone or in combination with regular phototherapy.
  • Exchange transfusion: to replace your baby's damaged blood with fresh blood. Exchange transfusion helps increase the red blood cell count and lower the levels of bilirubin. An exchange transfusion is done by alternating giving and withdrawing blood in small amounts through a vein or artery. Exchange transfusions may need to be repeated if the bilirubin levels remain high.
  • Ceasing breastfeeding for one or two days: Treatment of breast milk jaundice often requires stopping the breastfeeding for one to two days, and giving your baby formula often helps lower the bilirubin levels.
  • We treat any underlying cause of hyperbilirubinemia, such as infection.