Visual inspection 'unsuitable for jaundice diagnosis'

Visual inspection is an unreliable method of predicting newborn babies' risk of developing jaundice, according to a new study.

Pediatric researchers at the Centre for Pediatric Clinical Effectiveness at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, US, say that only infants with a total absence of visible jaundice can confidently be expected to have a very low risk of the potentially serious condition of hyperbilirubinemia.

The study authors say that while doctors, nurses and midwives have visually examined newborn babies for the yellowish skin tones which point to jaundice for hundreds of years, more thorough testing is needed to confirm whether high levels of bilirubin – the blood byproduct which causes yellowing and can lead to hyperbilirubinemia – are present.

Lead researcher Dr Ron Keren, a pediatrician at the Philadelphia centre, says: "Our study tells clinicians that our ability to estimate a baby's bilirubin level, or predict the baby's risk of developing clinically significant hyperbilirubinemia, by visually observing the extent of visual jaundice, is inadequate, and not very helpful."

He comments that less experienced observers may not be capable of accurately assessing a complete absence of jaundice.

"All in all, the benefits of objective results from universal bilirubin screening may outweigh the benefit in reducing testing and costs from pursuing a selective screening approach," he notes.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, neonatal jaundice occurs in as many as 60 percent of newborns annually.ADNFCR-2094-ID-19089611-ADNFCR