Kernicterus is condition that causes brain damage in newborns due to excessive levels of bilirubin in the bloodstream. Bilirubin, the result of ongoing recycling of red blood cells, is present in everyone. However, newborns are particularly susceptible to high levels of this substance because their livers are not sufficiently developed to handle the breakdown of red blood cells right away. The immediate result of high bilirubin is jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
At Todd & Weld LLP, we have been handling kernicterus cases since the early 1990s. This has given us the level of knowledge and experience required to bring cases to fruition and obtain results. Moreover, we are deeply invested in our clients, providing them with devoted and determined advocacy and information they need as they try to help their children.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least 60 percent of babies display symptoms of jaundice. It can be easily diagnosed and treated. Unfortunately, too often it is untreated or undertreated with instructions from health care providers to "put the baby in the sun". However, when a baby has untreated jaundice because of failure to test and treat properly, kernicterus can develop.
Risk Factors for Jaundice and Kernicterus
Some babies are more susceptible to high bilirubin levels, jaundice and consequent kernicterus. Risk factors include:
- Prematurity or late prematurity (34-37 weeks)
- Bruising during birth
- East-Asian or Mediterranean ancestry
- Feeding difficulties in the first days of life
- Early appearance of jaundice (before 24 hours)
- Mother with Rh negative factor or O blood type
- Mother with diabetes
- Siblings who were treated for jaundice after birth
- Gender; more male babies develop kernicterus
- Baby with darker skin that makes observation of jaundice symptoms more difficult
Of course, many infants possess these and other risk factors and develop jaundice but recover fully because they receive treatment. Kernicterus most frequently occurs when nurses and physicians do not follow protocols, fail to perform the accepted blood test and neglect to begin treatment for jaundice in a timely way. Failure to diagnose and treat the signs and symptoms of kernicterus can be an indicator of medical negligence.
We invite you to learn more about this condition. Visit our Resources page or follow the links below for additional information. We advocate for families nationwide whose newborns suffered this condition because of medical negligence at birth.
To learn how Todd & Weld LLP can advocate for you in a kernicterus case, contact our lead kernicterus practice area partner, attorney Jeffrey N. Catalano, at 617-391-0591.
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Symptoms of kernicterus