The Role of Untreated Jaundice in Causing Kernicterus


If you’ve found this blog post on google, you may already be aware that kernicterus is an injury to a child’s brain which is caused by a doctor’s failure to treat jaundice after birth. What you may be wondering is whether or not the kernicterus was avoidable. This blog may help clear up some of the questions you have. If you have any questions, or know someone who has suffered jaundice related injuries, contact us at (800) 215-1003 for a free consultation.

Kernicterus is a Sign of Medical Malpractice

Kernicterus Injury Attorney

Kernicterus is an avoidable injury caused by medical malpractice

Elevated bilirubin in a newborn is very common. However, injury to the child’s brain from it is not. In most instances, brain injury from kernicterus is a sure sign of malpractice. For clarification, kernicterus is caused by untreated jaundice. And jaundice is caused by an elevated bilirubin level in the newborn’s blood – also called bilirubinemia. Often, bilirubin levels are elevated following a prolonged delivery. The additional stress a baby endures during a difficult labor and delivery can cause the newborn’s bilirubin levels to rise, which can cause a yellowing of the baby’s skin, eyes, face, or body. However, jaundice can also appear in a newborn for no apparent reason.

It’s important to note that not all babies who have elevated bilirubin levels have yellow skin. This is especially true for babies who by nature have dark skin or complexions. As a result, the yellow color may not be obvious and this can cause the condition to be misdiagnosed.

Elevated Bilirubin can be Determined by a Simple Blood Test

The test for elevated bilirubin is simple. When doctors take blood from a baby’s heel after birth, one of the things they’re testing for is whether or not the baby has bilirubinemia – or elevated bilirubin levels in the baby’s blood.If bilirubinemia is present, the treatment is often simple and curative. The baby is simply placed under special lamps – called phototherapy. In almost all cases, phototherapy will cure the bilirubinemia and prevent the child from suffering kernicterus.

close quoteIt’s important to note that not all babies who have elevated bilirubin levels have yellow skin. This is especially true for babies who by nature have dark skin or complexions. That is why it is always important for doctors to test the child’s blood. Please contact The DiPietro Firm at (800) 215-1003 if you know someone who has been injured by kernicterus.

It is always important that a hospital re-test a baby for elevated bilirubin levels before discharging the baby home from the hospital. Equally important is that the pediatrician test the baby’s blood levels for bilirubinemia at the first pediatric appointment. The devastating effects of injury to a child’s brain from jaundice far outweigh the simple procedure of drawing a tiny amount of blood from the child’s heel.

Unfortunately, health care providers sometimes do a terrible job of communicating with parents about the complications associated with newborn jaundice. Other times, the fact that a child has dark skin and doesn’t appear to be jaundiced gives these health care providers a false sense of security that bilirubinemia isn’t present.

Signs and Symptoms of Jaundice:

  • your baby had an elevated bilirubin level – this is done by a common heel-stick blood test
  • parts of your baby’s body has a yellow to orange tinge
  • the most common location of the yellow-skin color can be on the face, chest, arms, legs, or any other part of the body
  • the whites of your baby’s eyes are yellow or have a yellow staining
  • your baby won’t latch on to breastfeed
  • your baby won’t drink enough formula or milk
  • your baby sleeps a lot and is difficult to awake for feedings
  • your baby may not be stooling often
  • there may or may not have been a prolonged or difficult vaginal delivery or cesarean section

Speak to Patient Safety Attorney About Your Case

Most parents, even those who have already had several children are not even aware of the serious nature of this condition. So, like other important medical conditions, it’s really up to the doctors and other care providers to educate parents – and always make sure to test bilirubin levels when there is any doubt. The risks of brain damage from bilirubinemia require that medical providers be ultra-vigilant and ensure that no child be injured by this devastating – and completely avoidable – medical condition.

If you know of anyone who was injured by jaundice or suffers from kernicterus, call The DiPietro Law Firm for a free consultation at (800) 215-1003 or just complete the confidential contact form at the bottom of your screen.

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