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Can jaundice be treated and prevent kernicterus from developing?
No baby should develop brain damage from untreated jaundice. If a baby gets too jaundiced, the baby can be treated with phototherapy. That is, the baby can be put under blue lights most of the day. The blue lights do not bother the baby. They are warm and probably feel good. If the baby gets very, very jaundiced, the doctor can do an exchange transfusion.
How is jaundice treated?
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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 bilirubin?
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.
A blood transfusion may be needed if the bilirubin in your baby's body reaches extreme levels.
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