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One side effect from extreme forms of jaundice is kernicterus. This neurological condition can occur when bilirubin travels from the blood stream into the brain and begins to collect in the brain tissue. The consequence of this happening is that the infant can development significant brain damage.
Before discussing the symptoms and treatments for kernicterus, it is important to understand exactly how it develops. Kernicterus starts with jaundice. When red blood cells die, the liver is responsible for removing them. The byproduct of this is a substance called bilirubin. The liver also functions to break down the bilirubin and it is then expelled from the body. It is when this substance begins to build up in the body that jaundice can occur.
What could lead to issues with elevated bilirubin? First of all, there could be too many red blood cells dying and the liver may not be able to handle it. In other cases, the liver itself may be damaged in some way and so cannot successfully dispel the bilirubin. Problems could also arise when the bilirubin is traveling through the digestive system to be expelled from the body. Elevated bilirubin does not always result in kernicterus but it is one possible side effect. If the child is sick or the levels are extremely high, this substance can travel into the brain tissue.
Symptoms of Kernicterus
Symptoms of kernicterus will usually surface within one week after birth, but some infants will not develop this condition until they are three weeks old. Sometimes babies with no other health conditions will develop kernicterus, but it has been shown that infants who are born with Rh hemolytic disease or hydrops fetalis have a higher risk of both jaundice and kernicterus. If you believe your child may be at risk of this condition, there are some symptoms which you can be on the lookout for. When the condition first develops, the infant could suffer from lethargy and extreme tiredness or may not be feeding properly. The may lack the startle reflex and suffer from very bad jaundice.
When kernicterus is more developed, they may begin to suffer from seizures. They may also have a bulging soft spot or an arched back. Other children will have a very high-pitched cry. Once the condition has fully developed into a late stage, the damage becomes more serious and more permanent. For example, the child may lose their ability to hear high frequencies or may be left mentally retarded. Other children may have difficulties with speech or moving and their muscles may be too rigid.
How is kernicterus diagnosed and treated?
If a doctor suspects that a child is suffering from kernicterus, they will probably request a blood test to evaluate the levels of bilirubin in the blood. The age of the baby will determine what the treatment will be. For example, they could use phototherapy or exchange transfusion. This condition is always taken extremely seriously as the results can be brain damage, permanent deafness, or even death. What makes these cases so tragic is the fact that they often can be prevented. If the jaundice is caught early, it does not have to get worse and becomes kernicterus. Too often, it can be traced back to a mistake on the part of the doctor.
If you believe that medical malpractice played a role in your situation, please do not hesitate to contact our team at the Law Offices of Joseph M. Lichtenstein, PC. We have over 60 years of combined experience in handling these types of cases and will do everything in our power to fight for your rights.
Call a New York medical malpractice lawyer today to learn more about birth injuries.