Jaundice | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is jaundice diagnosed?

In newborns

When a newborn develops jaundice, the timing of when signs first appear helps doctors diagnose the underlying cause.

Jaundice that appears 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. Jaundice that appears in the second week is often related to issues with breast milk feedings, but may have other causes.

In newborns and older children

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

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

How is jaundice treated?

Doctors decide how to treat jaundice based on many factors, including the underlying cause and level of bilirubin. While jaundice cannot be prevented completely, early recognition and treatment are important to keeping bilirubin from rising to dangerous levels.

Treatment for newborns may include: 

Phototherapy –uses blue spectrum light to reduce biliubin levels. This treatment may take several hours, during which, a clinician will change the baby’s position frequently to allow full skin exposure to the light. The 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 the 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 – helps increase red blood cell count and reduce levels of bilirubin. During the treatment, a clinician alternatively 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

Treatment will focus on managing the underlying cause of jaundice and reducing bilirubin levels.