Q&A: Is there a device that can measure a newborn's bilirubin without drawing blood?
I have heard about a device that can measure my newborn baby's bilirubin level without drawing any blood. Can you tell me about it?
For a quick but useful bit of background, let me first explain a bit about bilirubin and why being able to measure it is important. Bilirubin is the breakdown product of red blood cells. When it is present in the bloodstream at high enough levels, it is can cause newborns (and adults, for that matter) to appear yellow (also referred to as jaundiced). While almost all newborn infants have a small or modest increase in their bilirubin levels above what is considered normal for adults, more significant increases in bilirubin can become a problem requiring further evaluation and, in some instances, treatment. This is why all newborns are routinely screened for risk factors known to cause increased bilirubin. In addition, it explains why all newborns are examined for signs of jaundice.
While not all newborns require an actual measurement of bilirubin, some do. When deemed necessary, the first step in evaluating infants is to determine the amount of bilirubin in their blood either by collecting a small sample of blood (direct measurement), or by using a special device to get a “transcutaneous” (or “through the skin”) bilirubin measurement. Transcutaneous measurement devices do have the benefit of not requiring a needle or the drawing of any blood. But it is good to be aware that they only provide an estimate of the actual level of bilirubin in the blood and may not be as accurate (such as for babies already being treated for high bilirubin or in infants with darker skin).