Hyperbilirubinemia means your baby’s blood contains excessive amounts of bilirubin. Bilirubin is made when your baby’s red blood cells break down. It can be very difficult for some babies to rid their bodies of bilirubin after birth, which can cause it to build up in their blood, tissues, and fluids. This substance is colorful and can cause a yellow tinge on your baby’s skin, eyes, and other tissues. This yellow condition is called jaundice and often shows up at or after the birth of your baby.
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The Causes of Hyperbilirubinemia
Throughout your pregnancy, your placenta does the job of excreting bilirubin for your unborn baby. Once your baby is born, his liver must take on this important function. Hyperbilirubinemia can have several contributing causes, including:
- Physiologic jaundice occurs as a somewhat normal response to your baby’s inability to excrete bilirubin in the first days of life.
- Breast milk jaundice is caused when a substance in your breast milk increases the rate at which bilirubin is reabsorbed through the intestinal tract.
- Jaundice from hemolysis occurs when red blood cells break down due to hemolytic, or Rh, a disease in your newborn or when your newborn has too many red blood cells that break down and release bilirubin.
Inadequate liver function can also contribute to jaundice. Your child’s doctor will be able to tell you exactly what led to a diagnosis of hyperbilirubinemia in your son or daughter.
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The Symptoms of Hyperbilirubinemia
Every newborn might display his or her own distinct set of symptoms that indicate hyperbilirubinemia. The most commonly seen symptoms are:
- A yellowish tinge to skin and eyes
- Lack of interest in feeding
- Persistent lethargy
Many of the symptoms of hyperbilirubinemia resemble those of other medical conditions. For a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan, consult your baby’s doctor or healthcare provider.
How Hyperbilirubinemia Is Diagnosed in My Baby
The timing of the initial signs of jaundice in your baby is critical to diagnosis because jaundice that appears in the first twenty-four hours is usually serious and requires immediate treatment. Jaundice appearing on the second or third day is usually physiologic. Jaundice appearing toward the end of your baby’s first week is usually caused by breastmilk jaundice or by an infection. Jaundice appearing in the second week is usually caused by breastmilk but can also be caused by rare liver issues.
Your child’s physician will conduct tests to confirm a diagnosis of hyperbilirubinemia that includes assessing direct and indirect bilirubin levels and red blood cell counts. Your child’s doctor may also conduct a Coomb’s test to type and test your child’s blood for Rh incompatibility.
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Treatment Options Are Available for Hyperbilirubinemia
Specific treatment for hyperbilirubinemia will depend on factors like your baby’s gestational age, overall health, medical history, the extent of the disease, and your child’s ability to tolerate specific medications, procedures, and therapies. Treatments may include:
- Phototherapy which exposes your baby to specialized blue spectrum lights. It can take several hours to show signs of improvement and will be used and monitored throughout the day and night.
- Fiberoptic blankets, another form of phototherapy, might be placed under your baby. A fiberoptic blanket can be used alone or with traditional phototherapy.
- Exchange transfusion replaces your baby’s damaged blood with fresh blood. It helps increase red blood cell count and lower bilirubin levels.
- Ensuring adequate hydration with breastfeeding or expressed breast milk is usually done in conjunction with phototherapy for infants who are dehydrated or who experience excessive weight loss.
In addition to these treatments, your child’s medical team may also attempt to treat the underlying cause of their hyperbilirubinemia.
Low levels of bilirubin are usually not a cause for alarm, but large amounts can be dangerous when they circulate to the tissues in your baby’s brain. This condition, called kernicterus, caused by severe jaundice, is potentially irreversible brain damage. Early recognition, diagnoses, and treatment can prevent bilirubin levels from becoming dangerously excessive.
Left undiagnosed or untreated, jaundice in your newborn can be dangerous and life-threatening. Red flags your child’s doctor should look for include jaundice in the first day of life, higher than usual total serum bilirubin counts, lethargy, irritability, and respiratory distress.
File a Lawsuit on Behalf of Your Son or Daughter
If your son or daughter has been diagnosed with hyperbilirubinemia and you believe it could have been prevented, you may have the basis of a birth injury lawsuit. Your child is entitled to the best of care, and you deserve to provide it for them. A birth injury lawyer in your area can help you receive the financial compensation you deserve. Call the Birth Injury Lawyers Group today at (800) 222-9529 for a free case review with an attorney in your state.