What is the incidence of neonatal jaundice in the US?

Updated: Dec 27, 2017
  • Author: Thor WR Hansen, MD, PhD, MHA, FAAP; Chief Editor: Muhammad Aslam, MD  more...
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An estimated 50% of term and 80% of preterm infants develop jaundice, typically 2-4 days afer birth. [3] Neonatal hyperbilirubinemia is extremely common because almost every newborn develops an unconjugated serum bilirubin level of more than 30 µmol/L (1.8 mg/dL) during the first week of life. Incidence figures are difficult to compare because authors of different studies do not use the same definitions for significant neonatal hyperbilirubinemia or jaundice. In addition, identification of infants to be tested depends on visual recognition of jaundice by health care providers, which varies widely and depends both on observer attention and on infant characteristics such as race and gestational age. [12]

With the above caveats, epidemiologic studies provide a frame of reference for estimated incidence. In 1986, Maisels and Gifford reported 6.1% of infants with serum bilirubin levels of more than 220 µmol/L (12.9 mg/dL). [13] In a 2003 study in the United States, 4.3% of 47,801 infants had total serum bilirubin levels in a range in which phototherapy was recommended by the 1994 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines, and 2.9% had values in a range in which the 1994 AAP guidelines suggest considering phototherapy. [14] In some LMICs, the incidence of severe neonatal jaundice may be as much as 100 times higher than in higher-income countries. [15]

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