The Long-Term Effects of Kernicterus
When babies are born, there’s a chance they may develop some type of medical condition in the time shortly following birth. The good news is that some of these conditions are minor issues that will either clear up on their own over time or can be treated easily without any serious long-term effects on the baby’s health.
Jaundice is one very common example of this. According to the March of Dimes, jaundice occurs in approximately 3 out of 5, or 60%, of babies. Jaundice occurs when a person’s body has a buildup of bilirubin, which is a substance that forms as the hemoglobin in red blood cells breaks down. Normally, the liver helps remove bilirubin from the bloodstream, but when it can’t and bilirubin builds up, it gives skin and the whites of the eyes the characteristic yellowish appearance commonly associated with jaundice.
The reason jaundice is so common in newborns, particularly infants born prematurely, is that their livers often aren’t developed enough to keep up with bilirubin removal on their own yet and because infants produce more bilirubin than adults do. In some cases, jaundice can also be the result of Rh incompatibility between the mother and child, but this now occurs pretty rarely because doctors can treat mothers for Rh incompatibility during pregnancy.
In most cases, newborn jaundice is one of those medical conditions that is often resolved without any major complications. However, when an infant has a more severe case of jaundice and proper treatment is not given right away, it can turn into a condition known as kernicterus.
Kernicterus is a type of brain injury caused by dangerously high levels of bilirubin. It’s a less common condition than jaundice, but can result in very serious outcomes for the child. If jaundice progresses into kernicterus, it can cause problems like intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments, muscle spasms, athetoid cerebral palsy, problems with speech, poor coordination, discolored tooth enamel, poor muscle tone, and problems with eye movement.
When a child has severe jaundice, it’s crucial for doctors to quickly start giving them appropriate treatments like phototherapy, intravenous immunoglobulin, or even a blood transfusion to get those bilirubin levels down because prevention is the best way to deal with kernicterus. Unfortunately, if jaundice progresses into kernicterus, it can only be stopped. Any brain damage caused by kernicterus can’t be reversed and by the time a baby starts showing symptoms of kernicterus, damage has already been done.
One of the sad realities of kernicterus is that it’s a prime example of how many cases of birth trauma can be preventable. If your doctor did not take quick actions when high bilirubin levels were detected and your child developed kernicterus as a result, don’t hesitate to contact a birth trauma lawyer. Kernicterus is something that could potentially impact your child’s life in significant ways and it’s important to understand your legal rights. At Goodwin & Scieszka, we’ve helped many Michigan birth trauma victims just like you. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.
Image: iStock / Traida