Managing the assessment of neonatal jaundice: importance of timing

V K Bhutani, L H Johnson
Indian Journal of Pediatrics 2000, 67 (10): 733-7
In view of the limitations in the accurate visual assessment of jaundice and its potential role as a predictive vector for serious neurologic sequelae, we propose that a universal screening of bilirubin be considered concurrent to the routine pre-discharge metabolic screening. Universal bilirubin screening in the term and near-term newborns when plotted on "Hour-specific Bilirubin Nomogram" in lieu of the usual "day-specific" value will predict the high-risk and the low-risk groups and facilitate cost-effective and individualized follow-up of those babies at risk. A percentile based bilirubin nomogram for the first week of age was constructed from hour-specific pre- and post-discharge bilirubin values of 2840 healthy term and near-term babies. The accuracy of the pre-discharge bilirubin values was determined as a predictive vector. Pre-discharge (18-72 hours age), 6.1% of the study population had bilirubin values in the high-risk zone (> 95th percentile). Of these, 39.5% remained in that zone (likelihood ratio ¿LR¿ = 14.08). Pre-discharge, 32.1% of the study population had bilirubin values in the intermediate risk zone (40-75th percentiles). In a clinically significant minority of these babies (6.4%), the post-discharge values moved to the high-risk zone (L-R = 3.2 for the move from the upper-intermediate zone and 0.48 from the lower-intermediate zone). In the remainder 61.8% of the population who were identified to be at low risk, there was no measurable risk for significant hyperbilirubinemia (L-R = 0). The bilirubin nomogram can predict which infant is at high, intermediate, and low risk for subsequent excessive hyperbilirubinemia and allows for the individualized follow-up of these high-risk babies with particular attention to those who may need evaluation and intervention. Whereas, identification of the low risk group allows for a less intense bilirubin follow-up and in whom a visual check by an experienced care-provider may suffice.

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