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How is jaundice in newborns diagnosed?

Dr. Dianne Parker, MD
Pediatrician

Jaundice is diagnosed with a blood test measuring the total (unconjugated) bilirubin and the direct (conjugated) bilirubin. The results of the total bilirubin are plotted on a curve that has been standardized for the baby's age in hours to determine if phototherapy is required. If the direct bilirubin is elevated, further tests will be required to determine the cause.

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

The diagnosis of jaundice in the newborn begins with careful assessment of the infant. The first sign is a yellow coloring of the baby's skin. The change in color usually beginning on the infant's face and moves down the body. Another sign that may be identified during the assessment is poor feeding or lethargy. Based on these assessment findings the physician may order a blood test to measure the amount of bilirubin in the baby’s blood. The three blood tests most frequently ordered are:

  • Direct and indirect bilirubin levels.
  • Red blood cell counts
  • Blood type and testing for Rh incompatibility (Coombs’ test)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.