Jaundice in Newborns (Neonatal Jaundice)

  • Medical Author:
    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.

  • Medical Editor: John Mersch, MD, FAAP
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

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Newborn Jaundice Symptoms and Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of jaundice in newborns?

Jaundice usually appears first on the face and then moves to the chest, belly, arms, and legs as bilirubin levels get higher. The whites of the eyes can also look yellow. Jaundice can be harder to see in babies with darker skin color. The baby's doctor or nurse can test how much bilirubin is in the baby's blood.

Jaundice definition

Jaundice is the yellowish discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes and the whites of the eyes (sclerae) caused by elevated levels of bilirubin in the blood (hyperbilirubinemia). The term jaundice is derived from the French word jaune, which means yellow. Jaundice is not technically a disease, but rather it is a visible sign of an underlying condition causing increased levels of bilirubin in the blood.

Jaundice in newborns (neonatal jaundice)

Neonatal jaundice is the most common condition requiring medical evaluation in a newborn. Though it is often a normal and transient physiologic consequence of the newborn's immature liver, there are a variety of other medical conditions which can cause severe neonatal jaundice. Jaundice in the newborn must be carefully monitored, as excessively elevated levels of bilirubin that go untreated for too long, can lead to permanent brain damage (a condition termed kernicterus).

What causes jaundice in newborns?

Jaundice is caused by the accumulation of bilirubin in the blood, typically from an increased production of bilirubin or a decreased ability to metabolize and excrete it. Bilirubin is formed when red blood cells break down and is normally metabolized in the liver and excreted in urine and feces.

Neonatal jaundice can be caused by several different conditions, and it is very commonly seen in newborns. The most common cause in newborns is physiologic jaundice, which affects most newborns and is usually benign. However, there are many other causes of neonatal jaundice that can be more serious, and require further medical evaluation and intervention. A newborn that develops jaundice within the first 24 hours of life requires immediate medical attention. The following are some of the causes of neonatal jaundice.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2015

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