The Role of Untreated Jaundice in Causing Kernicterus

The Role of Untreated Jaundice in Causing Kernicterus

Kernicterus is a devastating, but preventable, form of brain injury that occurs in newborns when medical care providers fail to diagnose and treat jaundice (icterus) at birth.

Many parents aren’t even made aware of the official diagnosis until years after the injury occurs.

The DiPietro Law Firm Logo

By then, it’s far too late to do anything other than provide ongoing support and around the clock care.

The most tragic part of kernicterus is that it is easily avoided when the proper blood tests and treatment are offered to the baby when jaundice is present.

Table of Contents

Jaundice is Caused by Elevated Bilirubin Levels in the Blood

Kernicterus is an avoidable injury caused by medical malpractice

Elevated bilirubin in a newborn is common. 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.

kernicterus bilirubin jaundice malpractice

Elevated bilirubin can lead to a yellow-tint of the skin, eyes, face and body as the baby tries to break down the extra bilirubin.

However, jaundice can also appear in newborns for no apparent reason – even after what seemed like a relatively normal labor and delivery.

It’s important to mention that not all babies who have elevated bilirubin levels will have yellow skin.

This is especially true for babies who by nature have dark skin or complexions.

As a result, the yellowish color may not be obvious which can cause the condition to be misdiagnosed by untrained doctors or medical staff.

Finally, it is important to note that the brain injury (kernicterus) isn’t caused by the jaundice, but instead by the excess of bilirubin in the baby’s blood (called hyperbilirubinemia).

Elevated Bilirubin is Diagnosable with a Simple Blood Test

Testing for an elevated bilirubin level is straight forward.

When doctors take blood from a baby’s heel after birth, one of the things they routine test for is whether or not the baby has bilirubinemia – elevated bilirubin levels in the baby’s blood.

If bilirubinemia is present, the treatment is often both simple and curative. Babies with jaundice (bilirubinemia) are placed under special lamps – called phototherapy.

In almost all cases, phototherapy will cure the bilirubinemia and prevent the child from ever suffering kernicterus.

Generations ago, parents were told to place their baby’s bassinet in front of a window in the sunlight.

Exposure to the sun, or artificial lights which simulate the sun, are all that’s needed to help the body safely rid itself of the excess bilirubin.

Today, all hospitals are required to re-test babies who are known to have elevated bilirubin levels at birth.

When a hospital fails to re-test a child, it could have catastrophic consequences for the baby.

For that reason, it is equally important that a child’s pediatrician re-test the baby’s bilirubin levels at the first pediatric appointment, and every appointment thereafter for as long as the baby is jaundiced.

Skilled practitioners are very familiar with the fact that the devastating brain damage that can occur from hyperbilirubinemia far outweigh the quick and simple procedure of drawing a tiny amount of blood for testing from the baby’s heel.

Unfortunately, when health care providers fail to follow these straight-forward rules for treating jaundice, catastrophic injuries occur.

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.

Speak to Patient Safety Attorney About Your Case

Most parents are not aware of the serious nature of this condition.

Therefore, it is up to doctors and other care providers to always  test a baby’s bilirubin levels when there is any doubt.

The risks of brain damage from bilirubinemia require that medical providers be extra-vigilant and ensure that no child be injured by this devastating – yet completely avoidable – 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 submit the information through our confidential and free case evaluation form.

  • What are the signs and symptoms of elevated Bilirubin & Jaundice?

    There are many signs and symptoms of elevated Bilirubin and Jaundice in your baby – these signs and symptoms include, but are not limited to:

    • 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

Join the Discussion

Leave a Reply

Do You
Have A Case?

Here, at The DiPietro Law Firm, we’re committed to helping victims of sexual abuse and assault find the justice they deserve.

All information discussed during our consultations always remains completely 100% confidential.

Would you like our help?

About Anthony T. DiPietro

Founder Anthony T. DiPietro, Esq. is a compassionate and skilled trial attorney who has completely dedicated the past 23 years of his career to litigating medical malpractice and sexual abuse cases against major corporate institutions including hospitals, medical clinics, schools, and other wrongdoers.

Mr. DiPietro has also obtained some of New York State’s highest verdicts and settlements, and has been selected to New York State Super Lawyers® each year, for the past 10 years in a row.

In 2022, Mr. DiPietro was selected as one of America’s Top 100 High-Stakes Litigators for the landmark cases he’s won on behalf of survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Verdicts & Settlements
Recent Posts

Do You
Have A Case?

Here, at The DiPietro Law Firm, we’re committed to helping victims of sexual abuse and assault find the justice they deserve.

All information discussed during our consultations always remains completely 100% confidential.

Would you like our help?

Cases We're Currently Litigating

Years of Abuse:  1987 – 2016


Robert Hadden, a disgraced Obstetrician-Gynecologist (OB/GYN) who worked for Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, was criminally convicted in 2016 of sexually exploiting and abusing patients under the guise of medical care.

Hadden used his position of authority and trust to sexually exploit women and girls for nearly three decades as a Columbia University physician.

All the while, Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital administrators turned their backs and ignored reports of Hadden’s abuse, gaslighting patients and the public.

Read More:

Years of Abuse:  1979 – 2022


David H. Broadbent is a former OB/GYN under criminal investigation and facing civil lawsuits for sexual abuse of patients.

Broadent worked at multiple medical facilities in the Provo, Orem and Salt Lake City, UT areas.

These facilities included Intermountain Healthcare’s Utah Valley Hospital, MountainStar Healthcare’s Timpanogos Hospital, other Utah health care providers, and he also had adverse action taken against his medical license back in 1990.

Read More:

Years of Abuse:  1961 – 1996


22 predator teachers and administrators, over the course of 35 years.

Free Consultation Helpline

If you have any questions about whether or not you have a case, or just want to obtain more information about what you’ve experienced – feel free to contact us through our secure website chat.

You can also contact us by calling us at (212) 233-3600 or toll free at (800) 215-1003.

All of our consultations are free and 100% confidential. Thank you.