Understanding neonatal jaundice: UK practice and international profile

J R Soc Promot Health. 2008 Jul;128(4):202-6. doi: 10.1177/1466424008092229.


Over the last 25 years there have been considerable advances in the treatment and technologies used in the care of newborn infants. Most of these advances are related to the care of the premature infants and there have been few changes in the management of conditions commonly seen in term infants. Neonatal jaundice is one of the commonest neonatal disorders and has been recognized since early history. Early neonatal jaundice is usually caused by the physiological destruction of red blood cells in the infant and its importance lies in the ability of the bilirubin pigment so produced to cross the blood brain barrier resulting in neurotoxicity. Prolonged neonatal jaundice (after 14 days of age) may be an indication of an underlying liver disorder. The approach to neonatal jaundice has remained largely unchanged over the last two to three decades. We continue to rely on visual inspection to assess the severity of early neonatal jaundice. We have technology that is effective in reducing the level of bilirubinaemia but in the UK there is no clear consensus as to the level at which jaundice should be treated. We do not have a standardized approach to the management of prolonged jaundice and there is potential for infants with significant liver problems to be diagnosed at a relatively late stage. Some countries (for example the US) have professional bodies who have introduced guidelines to ensure a standardized approach to the jaundice infant. We have little information about neonatal jaundice treatment in other parts of the developing world.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Jaundice, Neonatal / diagnosis*
  • Jaundice, Neonatal / therapy*