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Jaundice / Kernicterus - Treatment
Kernicterus > Treatment

Can jaundice be treated?

Yes, it can. When being treated for high bilirubin levels, your baby will be undressed and put under special lights. The lights will not hurt the baby. This can be done in the hospital or at home. The baby’s milk intake may also need to be increased. In some cases, if the baby has very high bilirubin levels, the doctor will do an exchange transfusion of the baby’s blood. Jaundice is generally treated before brain damage is a concern. Putting your baby in sunlight is not recommended as a safe way of treating jaundice.

How do you measure billirubin?

Before leaving the hospital with your newborn, ask your doctor or nurse about a jaundice bilirubin test.  

A doctor or nurse may screen your baby’s bilirubin using a light meter that is placed on the baby’s head (as pictured). This results in a transcutaneous bilirubin (TcB) level. If it is high, a blood test will likely be ordered. 

The best way to accurately measure bilirubin is with a small blood sample from the baby’s heel.

This results in a total serum bilirubin (TSB) level. If the level is high, based upon the baby’s age in hours and other risk factors, treatment will likely follow. Repeat blood samples will also likely be taken to ensure that the TSB decreases with the prescribed treatment.

If bilirubin levels are too high, what treatments are there?
Treatment for high levels of bilirubin will be ordered by your doctor or nurse.

Your baby is placed in contact with special lights that break down the bilirubin in the body. Phototherapy may be delivered through a blanket or light source around the baby’s incubator or bassinet. This may be done in the hospital or at your home.  Your doctor or nurse will prescribe the best form of treatment for your baby.


Exchange transfusions
A blood transfusion may be needed if the bilirubin in your baby's body reaches extreme levels.

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Date: March 28, 2007
Content source: National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

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