KernicterusMost of us know what is meant by the phrase the “domino effect”. Domino effect basically means when one event occurs setting off a chain of events that can continue unless something is done to make them stop. This is precisely what happens with the condition known as kernicterus.

What Is Kernicterus?

Jaundice is something that the parents of a newborn might hear described as minor or of little concern. And while that is relatively true, and experts tend to say that jaundice is not something that even needs to be treated, there are times when it can cause a devastating outcome. Understanding jaundice is important in learning how kernicterus becomes such a major risk.

First of all, many babies are born with what is known as an excess of bilirubin in their bloodstream. This is something that the liver will eliminate naturally, and it usually takes only a short time for the newborn’s liver to catch up and remove the potentially harmful substance.

Of course, some children are born with underlying conditions that might make it difficult for their bodies to effectively balance out. For example, one group of infants at particular risk of health problems from too much bilirubin is those with Rh hemolytic disease (a blood disease).

Because jaundice is something that does demand monitoring, though it may not need treatment, it is up to the medical team to monitor the amount of bilirubin in a newborn’s blood. If they fail to do so and if they allow it to get too high, it can be considered a birth injury should kernicterus develop.

The Results of Kernicterus

The other name for kernicterus is hyperbilibrunemia, and it means that so much bilirubin has built up that it has harmed the brain. Children who have kernicterus are quite likely to have brain damage and the many health issues that relate to it.

The most common symptoms begin in the earliest stages of kernicterus because the baby has already gone beyond having a simple case of jaundice, and include:

  • Lethargy
  • Excessive signs of jaundice
  • Low muscle tone
  • No interest in feeding

The signs grow worse as kernicterus worsens and later symptoms include:

  • Seizures
  • Bulging in the fontanel
  • High pitched crying, more like shrieking
  • Hearing loss
  • Difficulty moving due to muscle stiffness

The condition can progress to the worst level in as little as 24 hours, and though it is impossible to predict which babies with jaundice are at risk for kernicterus, the fact of the matter is that all children with jaundice are to be closely monitored for increases in bilirubin in the blood.

The Prognosis

Symptoms of true brain damage can be as minor as cognitive disorders or hearing damage, but can be as severe as cerebral palsy or even death. This is why it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

To treatment for this condition is relatively simple and involves the use of traditional light therapy. However, if the level of bilirubin has gotten too far out of hand, blood exchanging may be necessary to prevent any further damage.

Because kernicterus is preventable through basic monitoring and observation, any instances are usually viewed as a birth injury. The medical professionals providing care should have caught the condition before it escalated and caused any permanent damage to the otherwise healthy baby.

Should your newborn have suffered extreme jaundice and kernicterus, you should contact an experienced birth injury lawyer immediately. You should not suffer financial pressures supplying your child with the medical help needed because of this birth injury.


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