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New guidelines to check for baby jaundice

Blood tests for all newborn babies with suspected jaundice recommended by NICE

Posted: 20 May 2010
by Kimberley Smith
UV light is used to treat cases of jaundice

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has announced guidelines to change the way newborns are checked for jaundice. A very common condition that is harmless in most cases, jaundice is developed by around 80% of premature babies and 60% of those born at full-term. On rare occasions, it can be fatal.

Jaundice is caused by a waste product created by red blood cells called bilirubin. A baby’s immature liver can have trouble removing this from the body and it becomes deposited under the skin causing the yellow colour we associate with jaundice.

Currently health workers rely on the baby’s appearance to diagnose how severe the case of jaundice but this can be problematic, especially for babies with darker skin tones.

NICE says that all babies should be checked for jaundice regularly in the first 72 hours and if the condition is suspected, blood tests to check levels of bilirubin should be carried out every six hours. This can help decide the level of treatment, from light therapy to blood transfusion.

“The majority of babies will develop jaundice in their first week of life and it will be generally harmless in most cases,” said Dr Fergus Macbeth, director of the centre for Clinical Practice at NICE. “Although the condition does have the potential to become serious, it can usually be easily treated with timely and appropriate medical care. This guideline will ensure that happens.”

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