What is excessive newborn jaundice?

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This blog will discuss several different birth injuries in the next five posts in order to shed some light on these conditions. The first condition to be discussed is excessive newborn jaundice.

Some conditions in newborns are common, but if a physician fails to spot and treat a common ailment it could lead to permanent disabilities for a baby, and could mean that the physician was negligent or committed medical malpractice.

Jaundice is common in newborns and causes the yellowing of an infant’s skin and eyes. This occurs when a baby is not able to break down something in the blood called bilirubin, which occurs when the body recycles red blood cells.

When bilirubin builds up and the jaundice becomes severe, it is called hyperbilirubinemia. This means that the bilirubin is so prominent in the blood that it begins to build up in the liver and eventually can move into the brain. If bilirubin enters the brain, it can lead to permanent damage. If bilirubin enters and damages the brain, the condition is known as kernicterus.

If kernicterus is not treated quickly and effectively, it can lead to brain damage, movement disorders, dental problems, problems with vision, central nervous system disorders, and deafness and hearing damage. If kernicterus progresses to a late stage, it can cause death.

In order to prevent kernicterus, all infants with signs of jaundice need to be tested to make sure that the levels of bilirubin in their systems are not excessive, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This must happen within 24 hours of jaundice appearing. It is also recommended that within two or three days of leaving the hospital all newborns — particularly those born prematurely or near-term – come in for a follow-up appointment to make sure that they do not have excessive jaundice.

The next two posts will discuss Erb’s palsy, brachial plexus injuries, shoulder dystocia and related birth injuries.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine, PubMed Health, “Kernicterus,” May 9, 2011

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