AAP Updates Hyperbilirubinemia Guideline

Heidi Splete

August 08, 2022

Raising phototherapy thresholds and revising risk assessment are among the key changes in the American Academy of Pediatrics' updated guidelines for managing hyperbilirubinemia in infants 35 weeks' gestation and older.

"More than 80% of newborn infants will have some degree of jaundice," Alex R. Kemper, MD, of Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, and coauthors wrote. Careful monitoring is needed manage high bilirubin concentrations and avoid acute bilirubin encephalopathy (ABE) and kernicterus, a disabling neurologic condition.

The current revision, published in Pediatrics, updates and replaces the 2004 AAP clinical practice guidelines for the management and prevention of hyperbilirubinemia in newborns of at least 35 weeks' gestation.

The guideline committee reviewed evidence published since the previous guidelines were issued in 2004, and addressed similar issues of prevention, risk assessment, monitoring, and treatment.

A notable change from 2004 was the inclusion of a 2009 recommendation update for "universal predischarge bilirubin screening with measures of total serum bilirubin (TSB) or transcutaneous bilirubin (TcB) linked to specific recommendations for follow-up," the authors wrote.

In terms of prevention, recommendations include a direct antiglobulin test (DAT) for infants whose mother's antibody screen was positive or unknown. In addition, exclusive breastfeeding is known to be associated with hyperbilirubinemia, but clinicians should support breastfeeding while monitoring for signs of hyperbilirubinemia because of suboptimal feeding, the authors noted. However, the guidelines recommend against oral supplementation with water or dextrose water to prevent hyperbilirubinemia.

For assessment and monitoring, the guidelines advise the use of total serum bilirubin (TSB) as the definitive test for hyperbilirubinemia to guide phototherapy and escalation of care, including exchange transfusion. "The presence of hyperbilirubinemia neurotoxicity risk factors lowers the threshold for treatment with phototherapy and the level at which care should be escalated," the authors wrote. They also emphasized the need to consider glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, a genetic condition that decreases protection against oxidative stress and has been identified as a leading cause of hazardous hyperbilirubinemia worldwide.

The guidelines recommend assessing all infants for jaundice at least every 12 hours after delivery until discharge, with TSB or TcB measured as soon as possible for those with suspected jaundice. The complete guidelines include charts for TSB levels to guide escalation of care. "Blood for TSB can be obtained at the time it is collected for newborn screening tests to avoid an additional heel stick," the authors noted.

The rate of increase in TSB or TcB, if more than one measure is available, may identify infants at higher risk of hyperbilirubinemia, according to the guidelines, and a possible delay of hospital discharge may be needed for infants if appropriate follow-up is not feasible.

In terms of treatment, new evidence that bilirubin neurotoxicity does not occur until concentrations well above those given in the 2004 guidelines justified raising the treatment thresholds, although by a narrow range. "With the increased phototherapy thresholds, appropriately following the current guidelines including bilirubin screening during the birth hospitalization and timely postdischarge follow-up is important," the authors wrote.

The new thresholds, outlined in the complete guidelines, are based on gestational age, hyperbilirubinemia neurotoxicity risk factors, and the age of the infant in hours. However, infants may be treated at lower levels, based on individual circumstances, family preferences, and shared decision-making with clinicians. Home-based phototherapy may be used in some infants, but should not be used if there is a question about the device quality, delivery time, and ability of caregivers to use the device correctly.

"Discontinuing phototherapy is an option when the TSB has decreased by at least 2 mg/dL below the hour-specific threshold at the initiation of phototherapy," and follow-up should be based on risk of rebound hyperbilirubinemia, according to the guidelines.

"This clinical practice guideline provides indications and approaches for phototherapy and escalation of care and when treatment and monitoring can be safely discontinued," However, clinicians should understand the rationale for the recommendations and combine them with their clinical judgment, including shared decision-making when appropriate, the authors concluded.

Updated Evidence Supports Escalating Care

The take-home message for pediatricians is that neonatal hyperbilirubinemia is a very common finding, and complications are rare, but the condition can result in devastating life-long results, Cathy Haut, DNP, CPNP-AC, CPNP-PC, a pediatric nurse practitioner in Rehoboth Beach, Del., said in an interview.

"Previous guidelines published in 2004 and updated in 2009 included evidence-based recommendations, but additional research was still needed to provide guidance for providers to prevent complications of hyperbilirubinemia," said Haut, who was not involved in producing the guidelines.

"New data documenting additional risk factors, the importance of ongoing breastfeeding support, and addressing hyperbilirubinemia as an urgent problem" are additions to prevention methods in the latest published guidelines, she said.

"Acute encephalopathy and kernicterus can result from hyperbilirubinemia with severe and devastating neurologic effects, but are preventable by early identification and treatment," said Haut. Therefore, "it is not surprising that the AAP utilized continuing and more recent evidence to support new recommendations. Both maternal and neonatal risk factors have long been considered in the development of neonatal hyperbilirubinemia, but recent recommendations incorporate additional risk factor evaluation and urgency in time to appropriate care. Detailed thresholds for phototherapy and exchange transfusion will benefit the families of full-term infants without other risk factors and escalate care for those neonates with risk factors."

However, potential barriers to following the guidelines persist, Haut noted.

"Frequent infant follow-up can be challenging for busy primary care offices with outpatient laboratory results often taking much longer to obtain than in a hospital setting," she said.

Also, "taking a newborn to the emergency department or an inpatient laboratory can be frightening for families with the risk of illness exposure. Frequent monitoring of serum bilirubin levels is disturbing for parents and inconvenient immediately postpartum," Haut explained. "Few practices utilize transcutaneous bilirubin monitoring which may be one method of added screening."

In addition, "despite the importance of breastfeeding, ongoing support is not readily available for mothers after hospital discharge. A lactation specialist in the office setting can take the burden off providers and add opportunity for family education."

As for additional research, "continued evaluation of the comparison of transcutaneous bilirubin monitoring and serum levels along with the use of transcutaneous monitoring in facilities outside the hospital setting may be warranted," Haut said. "Data collection on incidence and accompanying risk factors of neonates who develop acute hyperbilirubinemia encephalopathy and kernicterus is a long-term study opportunity."

The guidelines received no external funding. Lead author Kemper had no financial conflicts to disclose. Haut had no financial conflicts to disclose and serves on the editorial advisory board of Pediatric News.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.