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In Severe Cases, Newborn Jaundice Could Cause Cerebral Palsy

Unlike many types of complicated medical conditions I’ve seen in my practice, newborn jaundice is relatively straightforward. If left untreated, however, jaundice can be extremely risky for infants – and even cause cerebral palsy, in more severe cases. Below, I discuss some common facts about jaundice, and what you can do if you think your child is affected.

What is Newborn Jaundice?

Newborn jaundice is a common condition that colors newborns’ skin and whites of eyes (sclera) light yellow. It results from an excess of bilirubin (“hyperbilirubinemia”), a natural waste product that’s left behind when red blood cells break down. Normally, the placenta filters out bilirubin, so it’s natural for most babies to have a higher-than-normal bilirubin level. Up to 60 percent of newborns are affected by jaundice, according to a study by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

What doctors and parents must watch out for, is jaundice that persists for more than two weeks. They must also be alert for babies who are overly lethargic, as this can be a sign kernicterus (jaundice-induced brain damage). Newborns with kernicterus usually face a lifetime of medical challenges, including hearing problems, vision problems, and even cerebral palsy, in more severe cases.

How Do Doctors Treat Newborn Jaundice?

Usually, doctors will administer a blood test within a baby’s first twenty-four hours. If they suspect jaundice is present, they’ll follow up the blood test with a special probe to determine the baby’s exact color of skin. Testing may continue for several days, and even weeks.

Identifying Elevated Bilirubin Levels

In many jaundice cases I’ve seen, claims may be pursued against physicians or hospitals that failed to properly diagnose a newborn’s elevated bilirubin levels. Claims often include recovery of money damages for a lifetime of medical care, as well as pain and other intangible losses, as permitted by law. Given the severity of these cases, and the difficulty of caring for a disabled child, claims of jaundice certainly merit a timely legal investigation by trusted professionals.

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