Hyperbilirubinemia is a serious medical condition that can have severe consequences. It can also be a precursor to other ailments or diseases in newborns. In some children, hyperbilirubinemia can be harmless. In others, it can be harmful, depending on what caused the condition in the first place. Its severity can also play a role in the consequences that follow a diagnosis.
Excessively high bilirubin levels are always a matter of serious concern. Some causes of hyperbilirubinemia are innately dangerous no matter what the coexisting bilirubin level is. Brain damage is among the major consequences of hyperbilirubinemia in newborns. Acute encephalopathy, a rare neurological condition seen in some newborns with severe jaundice, can be followed by neurologic impairments like cerebral palsy and kernicterus.
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder caused by damage to your baby’s brain as it develops before, during, or immediately after their birth. If your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, they will have noticeable trouble controlling their muscles. Because it affects your child’s brain, cerebral palsy might lead to your child’s inability to walk, talk, eat, or play due to cognitive and developmental delays. Your child might be afflicted with one of three types of cerebral palsy:
- Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of the disorder. If your child has spastic cerebral palsy, they will have muscles that are stiff or difficult to relax.
- Athetoid cerebral palsy is often seen in children who suffer from hyperbilirubinemia. If your child has athetoid cerebral palsy, their arms and legs may flutter or move unexpectedly.
- Ataxic cerebral palsy is characterized by difficulty in establishing and maintaining balance and coordination.
Hyperbilirubinemia can be a precursor to other ailments or diseases in newborns like cerebral palsy, which can be mild, moderate, or severe depending on how much of your child’s brain was affected. Underweight and premature infants have a higher risk of being diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
What Are Jaundice and Kernicterus?
Jaundice is characterized by a yellow tinge in the skin and eyes of your newborn. Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin in your child’s blood. When severe jaundice is left untreated for too long, it can lead to a condition called kernicterus.
Kernicterus is a type of brain damage that is caused by excessively high levels of bilirubin in your baby’s blood. Kernicterus can cause athetoid cerebral palsy, hearing loss, vision and dental problems, and intellectual disabilities. Kernicterus is easily avoided with early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of infant jaundice.
How Is Hyperbilirubinemia Diagnosed in Newborns?
Your newborn’s diagnostic process will start with a physical and visual exam. The doctor will look for signs of jaundice, including yellow skin and eyes in your infant. A laboratory exam will determine if your baby’s blood contains excessive levels of bilirubin. The timing of the appearance of jaundice is an important factor in your child’s diagnosis.
- Jaundice appearing on the first day of life is serious and requires immediate treatment.
- Jaundice appearing on the second or third day is also serious and requires prompt treatment.
- Jaundice appearing in week one might be caused by an infection.
- Jaundice appearing in week two might be related to breast milk feedings.
Other diagnostic procedures might include testing your child’s direct and indirect bilirubin levels, red blood cell counts, and Rh compatibility.
What Are the Treatment Options for Hyperbilirubinemia?
Because hyperbilirubinemia can be a precursor to other ailments or diseases in newborns, treating it is typically geared toward treating its underlying cause. Prompt, effective treatment is important to ensure bilirubin is properly excreted from your child’s body as soon as possible to avoid the possibility of hyperbilirubinemia developing into a more serious disorder. Treatment options for hyperbilirubinemia include:
- Phototherapy is a treatment with a specialized fluorescent white light. The light used in phototherapy changes the molecular structure of unconjugated bilirubin into forms that are easily and rapidly excreted by the liver and kidney.
- Exchange transfusion is a slow, systematic replacement of small amounts of blood through an umbilical vein catheter. This treatment option removes partially hemolyzed and antibody-coated red blood cells and replaces them with healthy ones.
Your doctor will discuss treatment options with you according to the cause and severity of hyperbilirubinemia in your child.
Talk to an Attorney About Infant Hyperbilirubinemia Today
Hyperbilirubinemia can be a precursor to other ailments or diseases in newborns. If hyperbilirubinemia led to an even more serious medical condition in your newborn, you might be eligible to file a lawsuit for financial compensation.
An attorney can tell you if the standard of care was met in your case or if your child’s current condition could have been avoided. Contact the Birth Injury Lawyers Group at (800) 222-9529 to discuss the details of your case and the full range of your legal options with an attorney in your state.