According to the Cleveland Clinic, the level of bilirubin that causes kernicterus is about 25 mg. Most of the time infants are not born with high levels of bilirubin. It usually only gets to that point after birth and if the condition is not treated promptly or properly.
Bilirubin is a yellow byproduct from broken down red blood cells. The liver is responsible for removing it from the body. If it fails to do so or has a hard time keeping up with production, bilirubin stays in your bloodstream. This is commonly referred to as jaundice.
If it is left untreated, bilirubin levels can rise and leak into the brain. Once inside the brain, it can stick to brain tissue causing significant neurological damage, which is known as kernicterus. Researchers do not know if there is a relation between levels of bilirubin and damaging effects. So, it does not matter if the levels of bilirubin are at 20 mg or 30 mg. If it is inside the brain, the outcome is not good.
Reasons for high levels of bilirubin causing jaundice in an infant can include:
- Liver dysfunction
- Trouble breastfeeding
- Rh Disease
- Physiological jaundice
- Bruising at birth
The most distinct symptom of jaundice is when the skin and white part of the eyes appear to have a yellow tint. The more visible the yellow coloration in your child is, the more indicative of a severe problem. This can be difficult to detect in dark-skinned babies. This makes them at a higher risk for not being treated promptly for jaundice, which can lead to dangerous levels of bilirubin in their system.
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How Levels of Bilirubin Are Tested in a Newborn
In most cases, the existence of bilirubin levels is not serious. In fact, 60% of babies will have jaundice at some point within the first few days of birth, according to Stanford Children’s Health. If this is the case, your doctor and nurses may do a wait-and-see approach. A lot of times the condition subsides within a few days with no treatment.
On the other hand, if the condition appears to be more serious and life-threatening, your doctor may perform a light meter test. The test is harmless consisting of a bilirubin measurement taken from the surface of the skin. If the screening comes back high, a blood test may be ordered. Your medical team may perform a basic jaundice test as a precaution within 24 hours of your baby being born, whether or not your baby is at risk or is showing signs.
A blood sample may be collected from your baby’s heel. This can give your doctor a more precise reading and a plan for treatment. Through a blood sample, your doctor can do a red blood count test, Coombs test, and a reticulocyte test. All of these tests examine how the baby’s system is handling and manufacturing red blood cells.
Your doctor can begin treatment after a blood sample is retrieved. Throughout treatment, more blood samples may be taken every few hours to monitor the progress.
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Treating High Levels of Bilirubin in Infants
Once your doctor receives confirmation of high levels of bilirubin in your baby’s blood, treatment can begin. There are a few different ways your doctor can reduce levels of bilirubin. It depends on your baby’s age, the severity of the condition, and overall health.
Techniques used to treat high levels of bilirubin can include:
- Fiber optic blanket
- Blood transfusion
Sometimes liver transplants may be necessary if levels of bilirubin continue to rise and treatment is not working. It is rare though.
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High Bilirubin Levels Left Untreated Can Cause Serious Injuries
If high levels of bilirubin are left untreated, it can cause permanent neurological damage. It can also lead to death. Fortunately, most cases of jaundice never reach the point of kernicterus. As long as your doctor or nursing staff act quickly to reduce levels of bilirubin, this condition is highly treatable with no serious consequences.
Serious injuries caused by kernicterus can include:
- Brain damage
- Hearing loss
- Cerebral palsy
- Mental retardation
These conditions may also present other disorders as your child grows. This may include developmental problems, learning disabilities, and social issues. Kernicterus can have lasting emotional, physical, and financial costs.
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Contact Our Office if High Bilirubin Levels Caused Kernicterus in Your Child
If your child experienced high levels of bilirubin, which caused kernicterus, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. Have your case reviewed by a birth injury attorney who can discuss your legal rights, legal options, and the statute of limitations that may be applicable to your case, call the Birth Injury Lawyers Group at (800) 222-9529.
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