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.