Evaluation and treatment of neonatal hyperbilirubinemia

Am Fam Physician. 2014 Jun 1;89(11):873-8.


Although neonatal jaundice is common, acute bilirubin encephalopathy and kernicterus (i.e., chronic bilirubin encephalopathy) are rare. Universal screening for neonatal hyperbilirubinemia is controversial. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal screening with bilirubin levels or targeted screening based on risk factors. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Academy of Family Physicians found insufficient evidence that screening improves outcomes. Universal screening may also increase rates of phototherapy, sometimes inappropriately. Younger gestational age and exclusive breastfeeding are the strongest risk factors for the development of hyperbilirubinemia. Infants who appear jaundiced should be evaluated by a risk score or by measurement of total serum or transcutaneous bilirubin. Phototherapy is an effective treatment for hyperbilirubinemia, but the number needed to treat varies widely depending on sex, gestational age, and time since delivery. If indicated, phototherapy should be initiated based on gestational age and risk factors. Exchange transfusion leads to complications in about 5% of treated infants and has a mortality rate of three or four per 1,000 infants. Infants who breastfeed exclusively-particularly those who consume inadequate calories-are at increased risk of hyperbilirubinemia. However, interrupting breastfeeding for the treatment of jaundice increases the risk of early discontinuation of breastfeeding. Encouragement from health care professionals is important to promote breastfeeding in these situations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bilirubin / blood
  • Breast Feeding
  • Exchange Transfusion, Whole Blood / adverse effects
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Hyperbilirubinemia, Neonatal / complications
  • Hyperbilirubinemia, Neonatal / diagnosis*
  • Hyperbilirubinemia, Neonatal / therapy*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Jaundice, Neonatal / etiology
  • Jaundice, Neonatal / therapy
  • Kernicterus / etiology
  • Phototherapy* / adverse effects
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic


  • Bilirubin