Can Jaundice Increase the Risk of Autism Development?
Jaundice is a condition that affects six out of every ten newborns. It happens when bilirubin, a yellowish pigment that is created when the body recycles old blood cells, builds up in a baby’s body.
The bilirubin is processed by the mother’s liver before birth and it can sometimes take time for the newborn liver to take over. It is easily treated and generally not a cause for concern.
However, researchers in Denmark seem to have found a link between jaundice in full term newborns and the development of certain disorders which include autism.
Researchers examined data from over 700,000 live births in the ten years between 1994 and 2004. Nine percent of the children that were jaundiced at birth were later diagnosed with Autism compared to three percent of the children who did not have jaundice. This translates to a 67 percent increased risk for the disorder.
There were other interesting details. For example, researchers found that the risk of developing autism was higher if the mother had previously given birth or if the baby was born in the colder months of the year, being highest from October to March.
The risk was lower if the child was born from April through September or if the child was a firstborn. The theory is that children born in the warmer months has less serious jaundice because they had more exposure to sunlight, one of the things that helps the body process the extra bilirubin.
So, should you be worried? Doctors say that you should not. The study is interesting but there is not enough evidence to prove a definite link between jaundice and autism. In addition, the study did not take in to account the severity of the jaundice.
Premature babies that had jaundice did not appear to have an increased risk of developing autism later on.
What can you do?
Your baby will be checked for elevated bilirubin levels and other signs of jaundice before she leaves the hospital. Keep an eye on her and if you think she is getting a yellowish tint to her skin or the whites of her eyes, you should call your doctor immediately.
Jaundice is usually treated by exposure to sunlight or full spectrum lighting. Let your baby lie naked on a blanket in front of a window with sunlight streaming through, just make sure that it isn’t too hot.
Most of all don’t worry. It is important to have information so that you can make educated decisions and have an awareness of the possibilities. Jaundice doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a problem – just that you will want to keep an eye on your child so that you can bring any concerns right to your pediatrician should possible symptoms develop.
If you have any concerns about jaundice, this study, or anything else, be sure to discuss them with your child’s doctor. He can address your concerns and order tests if he feels it is necessary.
source: American Academy of Pediatrics