What does it mean when newborns have high levels of bilirubin?


Quick Answer

High levels of bilirubin, a brownish yellow component of liver bile resulting from the decomposition of old blood cells, indicates brain injury or other problems in newborns. The reference range, normal values, vary from lab to lab, with respect to the age and term of the newborn, states WebMD.

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Full Answer

Bilirubin circulates through the bloodstream in either direct or indirect form and is removed from the body in fecal matter, giving it color. Direct bilirubin is water-soluble and made by the liver from the indirect form. Indirect bilirubin travels through the blood stream to the liver where it is changed to direct bilirubin. If detected in a urine sample, testing is performed to determine the source, since bilirubin is not normally present in urine, states WebMD.

Although some newborns may have a harmless form of jaundice at birth, a bilirubin test is performed to determine if the neonatal jaundice is severe enough to warrant treatment. Using a transcutaneous bilirubin meter protects newborn skin from the heel stick blood test. The meter is placed against the newborn skin and screening is done, says WebMD. If the results are high from the noninvasive test, a confirmatory blood test is done by heel stick.

Treatment options include using phototherapy, exposure to special lights, or transfusion to lower bilirubin levels in newborns. Assessment of damage to the body systems determine if further treatment is needed, according to WebMD.

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