Kernicterus can be fatal. It is important that it is treated promptly and properly. Usually, this can take place soon after your baby is born. Many times kernicterus can be avoided altogether if the appropriate measures are taken.
Kernicterus is not a condition that stands alone rather it is developed from another condition known as jaundice. It is common for a baby to be born with jaundice. In fact, 60% of newborns are born with or develop jaundice in the first few days outside of the womb. For premature babies, the risk is higher. According to Stanford Children’s Health, 80% of babies born before 37 weeks have jaundice.
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Understanding the Relation Between Jaundice and Kernicterus
Jaundice occurs because an infant’s liver is unable to rid of bilirubin from their blood fast enough. Considering that a premature baby’s organs, including the liver, are often not fully developed, this constitutes an increased risk of jaundice. It can be easily identifiable because a baby’s sclera (white part of the eye) and skin color will look yellow.
There are variations that do occur with the condition. It is based on the levels of bilirubin in the baby’s system. Often babies may have slight elevations of bilirubin. When this occurs, the levels will frequently go down on their own without any treatment.
However, if they are high, treatment and close monitoring should take place. The Medline Plus identifies high levels of bilirubin can be above 20 to 25 mg. If jaundice is left untreated, serious life-changing consequences can result including kernicterus. Kernicterus occurs when bilirubin eventually leaks into the brain. It can cause irreversible neurological damage with the possibility of becoming fatal.
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Other Complications Arising from Kernicterus
Death is the most severe prognosis that can result from kernicterus but there are other grave problems that can occur also. They can interfere with your baby’s development and impact their quality of life.
Other serious problems associated with kernicterus can include:
- Brain damage
These problems can greatly impact your child’s future. It can disable them from living a satisfactory life and hinder their capabilities of achieving goals and milestones in life. It may limit their mental capacity making it hard to learn and find a good job. Behavioral, learning, and social disorders may develop as well. Additionally, it can be costly to treat and manage these outcomes.
Preventing Kernicterus Through Treatment
Treating jaundice is key to preventing kernicterus. A newborn, especially a premature baby, usually will undergo a jaundice check during their stay at the hospital before they are discharged. Even after the discharge, your infant will probably have their first well visit with their pediatrician where they will be checked again for jaundice. This is standard protocol whether your baby looks like they have jaundice or not.
The basic test is quick and painless. Your doctor or nurse may use a handheld medical instrument known as a light meter. The tip is placed on your baby’s forehead to get a bilirubin reading.
The initial test may come back positive for jaundice. This may not be a cause for concern. It depends on the levels of bilirubin present. If they are slightly elevated, your doctor may just use a “wait-and-see” approach. Many times the levels will naturally go down and your baby will be fine.
On the other hand, if high levels of bilirubin are present or continue to rise, your doctor may recommend treatment right away. There are a few ways to minimize bilirubin levels but not all may be viable options for your infant. It depends on their age, how severe the condition is, and their overall health. Your doctor can discuss the best treatment options for your baby with you.
The ways high levels of bilirubin in an infant can be reduced may include:
- Fiber optic blanket
- A type of blood transfusion
- Liver transplant
While your baby is undergoing treatment, your doctor or nurse may continue to check your child’s bilirubin levels every 8 to 12 hours. This may warrant blood samples that are taken from your baby’s heel. It helps ensure that the treatment being used is working and allows the medical team to monitor the progress of bilirubin levels.
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You Have a Limited Time to Act if Kernicterus Was Caused by a Doctor’s Malpractice
When kernicterus turns fatal or causes other life-changing complications, you may be able to seek restitution through a medical malpractice lawsuit. Have a lawyer review your case to determine your eligibility. Do not wait as you may only have a certain amount of time to file. Call the Birth Injury Lawyers Group today for a free case review at (800) 222-9529.