Kernicterus is a form of brain damage caused by too much bilirubin (yellow bile pigment) in a newborn’s body. This build-up of yellow pigment, called jaundice, is common in newborns, as their livers are often not sufficiently developed to process all the bilirubin at once. In most cases, jaundice will clear up by itself and does not pose a danger to the baby. However, if the bile level rises too high, it can affect the brain and cause permanent damage.
Some kernicterus symptoms include:
- Jaundice (yellowing skin)
- Arching of the head and back backwards
- Baby is not alert
- High pitched cry
- Poor sucking or nursing
- Decreased muscle tone (hypotonic)
- Increased muscle tone (hypertonic)
Doctors need to closely monitor jaundice in newborns, treating high levels with phototherapy or blood transfusion to prevent brain damage. Doctors who fail to do this may be guilty of medical malpractice.
What are the Causes?
Excessive levels of bilirubin in the bloodstream causes kernicterus. Bilirubin is a waste product produced by the breakdown of haemoglobin found in red blood cells which can in high concentrations causes jaundice.
Newborn jaundice affects 60% of newborns in the United States each year and is the number one reason for hospital readmission during the first week of life. Prior to 1990, kernicterus had been almost eradicated as a health problem in newborns. However, since hospitals began the practice of discharging mothers and newborns within 48 hours of birth – before jaundice has fully developed – kernicterus has re-emerged as a serious health threat to newborns.
Filing a Lawsuit
Parents whose babies have been injured by kernicterus may file a lawsuit and be entitled to financial compensation. If you plan on filing a lawsuit, you should contact our lawyers immediately. Each state has a time limit, called a statute of limitations, restricting how long you have to file a claim. The time limit varies from state to state. If you wait too long you will not be able to take legal action. Contact a birth injury lawyer today to learn more about your legal rights!