Jaundice | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is jaundice diagnosed?

Newborns

Jaundice that appears in the first 24 hours of an infant’s life is quite serious and usually requires immediate treatment. Jaundice that appears later can be normal and often clears up without treatment. However, persistent jaundice beyond the second week of life can be sign of a more serious liver problem that needs to be assessed by a doctor.

Newborns and older children

No matter what the age your child is, their doctor will conduct a physical exam and look for visible signs of jaundice. The doctor may also conduct the following tests to determine why your child has jaundice:

  • blood test to measure bilirubin levels and red blood cell counts
  • Coomb's test to identify antibodies that attack red blood cells

How is jaundice treated?

Your child’s doctor will decide how to treat jaundice based on many factors, including the underlying cause and results of the blood tests. While jaundice cannot be prevented completely, early treatment is important to keeping bilirubin from rising to dangerous levels.

Treatment for newborns may include one or more of the following: 

Phototherapy uses blue spectrum light to reduce bilirubin levels. This type of light transforms bilirubin into a water-soluble compound that can be excreted in the urine. This treatment may take several hours, during which, a clinician will change your baby’s position frequently to allow full skin exposure to the light. Your baby’s eyes will be protected and clinicians will monitor their temperature and bilirubin levels throughout the treatment.

Fiberoptic blanket is a type of phototherapy in which a fiberoptic blanket, also known as a biliblanket, is placed under your baby. The fiberoptic blanket, bathes the baby in light to reduce bilirubin. It can be used alone or in combination with standard phototherapy.

Exchange transfusion is a medical procedure used to reduce levels of bilirubin. During the treatment, a clinician gives and withdraws blood from the child in small amounts. This treatment may need to be repeated if bilirubin levels remain high.

Discontinued breastfeeding for breast-milk jaundice is usually only necessary for one or two days. Breastfeeding can be resumed after bilirubin levels go down.

Other treatments focus on managing the underlying cause of jaundice and reducing bilirubin levels.