CHICAGO — Autism is more common in children who had jaundice at birth, a big Danish study found, but researchers cautioned that they do not know how the conditions might be related and that new parents should not be alarmed.
Mild jaundice is fairly common and generally harmless. Severe, untreated jaundice is known to cause brain damage, but it is also rare and has not been proved to cause autism. It is possible that children genetically predisposed to autism might also be more vulnerable than others to jaundice.
But if autism and jaundice are related, the study does not answer whether one of the ailments might have caused the other, said Rikke Damkjaer Maimburg, the lead author and a researcher at Denmark’s Aarhus University.
Maimburg and colleagues examined medical data on all 733,826 children born in Denmark between 1994 and 2004. The results were prepared for release online today in Pediatrics.
Among autistic children, almost 9 percent had jaundice as newborns, compared with 3 percent of other children.
Previous studies on a possible autism-jaundice link have produced conflicting results.
The new results shouldn’t scare parents whose newborns are jaundiced, said Dr. Thomas Newman, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the University of California at San Francisco who found no link.