Treating Kernicterus

If your baby develops kernicterus, you should start treatment immediately. The baby is placed under special blue lights called jaundice phototherapy lights for a number of hours. Or, your baby will be wrapped in a "bili-blanket." This helps remove the bilirubin from the blood which can cause Kernicterus. The blue lights are warm and do not harm the baby.

Blood samples must be taken and sent to a lab for testing to accurately determine the bilirubin levels. The baby’s blood type should also be identified during testing in case a transfusion is necessary. Do not wait for the test results to come. Start the phototherapy immediately. The baby must be given large quantities of fluids and fed with an elemental infant formula by tube. If there is no great drop in the bilirubin, the baby should be given an exchange transfusion as soon as possible.

Risk Factors
Excessive neonatal jaundice in newborn babies may cause brain damage. Norms exist for bilirubin in term and nearly term babies based on the age in hours after birth. Other factors, such as prematurity, blood group incompatibilities between infant and mother including Rh and A, B, O blood types, and bruising, especially hemorrhaging, can increase bilirubin production and lead to excessive jaundice.

As the damage continues, the babies may develop fever, and may arch their heads back into a very contorted position.

Does jaundice always lead to Kernicterus?
No. Many babies have jaundice when they are a few days old, but with proper treatments for jaundice, it almost always clears. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to avoiding brain damage.

If my child Developed Kernicterus, what can I do?
If your baby developed Kernicterus, you may have a medical malpractice claim against the healthcare providers who were responsible for this injury. The malpractice claim is for the harm your child has suffered, and for the cost of baby care and treatment for your child. You should consult a lawyer, preferably one with experience in medical malpractice claims.

How many babies get Kernicterus?
The incidence is very low:
In the US: Approximately 125 babies with chronic Kernicterus were reported in the period 1984-2002.
In Denmark, 6 cases of Kernicterus were reported in newborns in the period 1994-1998.

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