The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Randomized, Controlled Trial of Phototherapy for Neonatal Hyperbilirubinemia was conducted to determine whether phototherapy used to control serum bilirubin is safe and is as effective in preventing brain injury as exchange transfusion. The study, conducted at six neonatal care centers, randomly assigned 1339 newborn infants to phototherapy or control groups by the following subgroups: (1) birth weight <2000 g; (2) birth weight 2000 to 2499 g and bilirubin level >171 µmol/L (10 mg/dL); or (3) birth weight ≥2500 g and bilirubin level >222 µmol/L (13 mg/dL). Phototherapy was administered for 96 hours, and exchange transfusion was used to control hyperbilirubinemia at the same predetermined levels in both groups. Neurological and developmental examinations were conducted at 1 and 6 years of age, with follow-up rates of 83% and 62%, respectively. The two groups did not differ in mortality or diagnosed medical conditions. The phototherapy and control groups had similar rates of cerebral palsy (5.8% vs 5.9%), other motor abnormalities including clumsiness and hypotonia (11.1% vs 11.4%), and sensorineural hearing loss (1.8% vs 1.9%). The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised scores overall were not significantly different for the two groups (Verbal, 96.8 vs 94.8; Performance, 95.8 vs 95.1 for phototherapy and control groups, respectively). Phototherapy effectively controlled neonatal hyperbilirubinemia without evidence of adverse outcome at 6 years of age and was at least as effective as management with exchange transfusion alone.

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