Tests and Diagnosis

Your doctor will first conduct blood tests to determine the cause of your jaundice. A blood test can not only determine the total amount of bilirubin in your body, but it can also help detect indicators of other diseases such as hepatitis. 

Other diagnostic tests may be used, including:

  • liver function tests: a series of blood tests that measure levels of certain proteins and enzymes the liver produces when it’s healthy and when it’s damaged
  • imaging studies: includes abdominal ultrasounds (using high-frequency sound waves to generate images of your internal organs), computed tomography (CT) scan, and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests
  • liver biopsies: small samples of liver tissue are removed for testing and microscopic examination 

The severity of jaundice in newborns is generally diagnosed with a blood test. A small blood sample is taken by pricking the infant’s toe. Your pediatrician will recommend treatment if the results indicate moderate to severe jaundice.

Treating Jaundice

The type of treatment your doctor recommends for jaundice depends on the underlying cause. Mild cases may go away without treatment. However, severe cases can eventually damage the brain. Your doctor will treat the cause of the jaundice, not the symptom itself. Once treatment begins, your yellow skin will likely diminish. 

According to the American Liver Foundation, most jaundice cases in infants resolve within one to two weeks.

Moderate jaundice is typically treated with phototherapy (light therapy) in the hospital or in the home to help remove excess bilirubin. 

The light waves used in phototherapy are absorbed by your baby’s skin and blood. The light helps your baby’s body change the bilirubin into waste products to be eliminated. Frequent bowel movements with greenish stools are a common side effect of this therapy. This is just the bilirubin exiting the body. Phototherapy may involve the use of a lighted pad, which mimics natural sunlight and is placed on your baby’s skin. 

Severe cases of jaundice are treated with blood transfusions (injections of donor blood) to remove bilirubin.

Outlook for Jaundice

Jaundice usually clears up when the underlying cause is treated. Outlook depends on your overall condition. See your doctor right away to improve your chances of a quick recovery. Mild cases of jaundice in newborns tend to go away on their own without treatment, and cause no lasting liver issues.