Neonatology pp 1185-1206 | Cite as

Treatment of Hyperbilirubinemia in Newborns

  • Jon F. WatchkoEmail author
  • M. Jeffrey Maisels
Reference work entry


The main aim of treating hyperbilirubinemia is to prevent kernicterus and/or neurodevelopmental impairment. Recommendations for treatment are based primarily on the total serum bilirubin (TSB) levels but also as a function of gestational age, birth weight, bilirubin/albumin ratios, and risk factors that increase the risk of bilirubin neurotoxicity. Setting thresholds for intervention in the premature neonate is more challenging than in term babies. Phototherapy is effective in lowering the circulating bilirubin or preventing it from rising further; its primary purpose is to prevent the need for an exchange transfusion. Phototherapy uses visible light energy to change the shape and structure of bilirubin, converting it to molecules that can be excreted even when normal conjugation is deficient. Exchange transfusion remains an important if infrequently required intervention. It is recommended in any infant who is jaundiced and manifests signs of intermediate to advanced stages of acute bilirubin encephalopathy even if the TSB is falling. Pharmacologic agents used in the management of hyperbilirubinemia can accelerate the normal metabolic pathways for bilirubin clearance, inhibit the enterohepatic circulation of bilirubin, and interfere with bilirubin formation by blocking the degradation of heme or inhibiting hemolysis. Currently, the only drug in clinical use is intravenous immunoglobulin.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Newborn Medicine, Department of PediatricsUniversity of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of PediatricsOakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, Beaumont Children’s HospitalRoyal OakUSA

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