Elevated Bilirubin, Jaundice and Kernicterus

Jaundice is a common and easily diagnosed condition in newborns caused by elevated bilirubin levels. If jaundice is not properly handled, it then leads to kernicterus, a dangerous and permanent form of brain damage. Doctors can conduct diagnostic testing to determine a child’s bilirubin levels and take appropriate action depending on when jaundice first appears. They can treat jaundice using phototherapy, blood transfusions or by treating any underlying causes such as infections. Because jaundice is so easily diagnosed and treated, kernicterus is highly preventable.


Elevated Bilirubin in Newborns

Bilirubin is a by-product of red blood cells being broken down in the body. Infants are not able to easily get rid of the bilirubin and so it often builds up in the baby’s blood and tissues.  This is called hyperbilirubinemia. Because bilirubin has a pigment, it causes yellowing of the skin and white parts of the eyes, which is called jaundice. About 60% of full-term infants and 80% of preterm infants will develop jaundice as a result of elevated bilirubin.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Elevated Bilirubin

Every baby is different and therefore may experience different symptoms at different times. However, the following are the most common hyperbilirubinemia symptoms:

  • Jaundice, yellowing of the baby’s skin (usually starting on the face and moving down the body)
  • poor feeding
  • lethargy, tiredness

There are several diagnostic tests that can be done to confirm hyperbilirubinemia. These include:

  • direct and indirect tests of bilirubin levels, checking whether the liver is passing the bilirubin so it can be excreted (direct) or is if it’s being circulated in the blood (indirect).
  • red blood cell counts
  • blood type and testing for Rh incompatibility (Coomb’s test)

The timing of the first appearance of jaundice helps with diagnosis and treatment. If jaundice appears within the first 24 hours, it is serious and should be treated immediately. If the jaundice appears on the second or third day after birth, it is usually “physiological jaundice,” which is the common jaundice seen in the majority of infants and is not serious.  When jaundice appears on the third day to the first week, it may be from an infection. Later appearance of jaundice, is often related to breast milk feedings, but may have other causes.

Treatment depends on many factors, including the cause of the hyperbilirubinemia and the actual level of bilirubin. Some common treatments:

  • Phototherapy. The baby is exposed to a special blue-spectrum light that decreases the bilirubin levels.  Blood tests are performed afterwards to check bilirubin levels to ensure the phototherapy is working.
  • Fiber optic blanket. This is another form of phototherapy. The blanket is placed underneath the infant and can be used alone or along with regular phototherapy.
  • Blood transfusion to increase the red blood cell count and reduce the levels of bilirubin.
  • Treatment of any underlying causes of hyperbilirubinemia, such as infection.

Hyperbilirubinemia (Elevated Bilirubin), Kernicterus and Jaundice Attorneys

Birth Injury Attorneys | Reiter & Walsh, PC | Hyperbilirubinemia (Elevated Bilirubin), Kernicterus and Jaundice AttorneysBabies are often born with a condition called jaundice due to elevated bilirubin levels in their bodies. Easily diagnosed and highly treatable, doctors are trained to look for the signs of jaundice in newborns and treat it before the jaundice escalates into a type of brain damage called kernicterus. If your child has been diagnosed with conditions like cerebral palsy, seizures, or intellectual impairments as a result of kernicterus, it is likely a case of medical malpractice and you may be entitled to financial compensation.

At Reiter & Walsh, P.C., our attorneys handle 100% birth trauma cases, and they consistently secure multi-million dollar settlements for their clients. Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers is based in Michigan, but we handle cases throughout the United States. We’ve handled hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy cases in Michigan, Ohio, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, Wisconsin, and more. Our birth injury team is also equipped to handle cases involving military medical malpractice and federally funded clinics.

Contact Reiter & Walsh, P.C. today to begin your free case review with our Detroit, Michigan hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy lawyers. Free of charge and obligations, we will answer your legal questions, determine the negligent party and inform you of your legal options. Our team is available to speak with you to set up an appointment in any of the following ways:

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