Does jaundice always lead to kernicterus?
No. Many babies have jaundice when they are a few days old, but with proper treatment, it almost always goes away. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to avoiding brain damage.
Are some newborn babies more likely to become jaundiced than others?
Yes. Newborn babies more likely to develop jaundice than others include those who suffered a bruise during childbirth, those born early (prematurely), those who are not nursing well, those who have a brother or sister that had jaundice, and those born to an African-American, East Asian, or Mediterranean family in whom G6PD (Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase) deficiency is common.
The medication co-trimoxazole (a combination of trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole) may also contribute to the development of the disorder. Kernicterus can also come about as a symptom of Crigler-Najjar syndrome.
Can jaundice be treated so that kernicterus will not develop?
Absolutely. Many times, jaundice will go away without treatment. However, if treatment is required, the main treatment is a simple one. Babies are placed under special blue lights for a number of hours, or wrapped in a “bili-blanket”. This is called phototherapy. It helps remove the bilirubin from the blood, which can cause kernicterus. The blue lights are warm and do not cause any harm to the baby.
If the baby gets very, very jaundiced, the doctor can do a blood transfusion to remove the extra bilirubin. This is called an “exchange transfusion.”
No baby should develop brain damage from untreated jaundice. Medical experts now refer to kernicterus as a “never event.”
Another danger of kernicterus is misdiagnosis. The brain damage caused by this disorder mimics some of the movement and language processing problems like autism spectrum disorders, mental retardation, and cerebral palsy.
What should I do if I think my baby has jaundice?
You should contact your baby’s doctor and arrange for a visit.
If I have a child with kernicterus, what can I do?
If your baby has kernicterus, you may have a medical malpractice claim against healthcare providers who caused this injury. The malpractice claim is for the harm your child has suffered, and for the cost of care and treatment for your child.
For a no-obligation telephone consultation to determine whether your child has a medical malpractice claim for kernicterus,