Can Jaundice Hurt a Baby? Portland Medical Malpractice Lawyer Explains Kernicterus

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Understanding Kernicterus: Can Jaundice Hurt a Baby Explained by our Portland Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the eyes, skin, and other parts of the body caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the blood.  Jaundice is a very common condition for babies to have, especially babies born before 38 weeks.  This is because a baby’s liver is not functioning by itself and without the mother’s liver to help, meaning that there is a lot of stress on the liver.  As a baby born before 38 weeks old, the liver simply is not mature enough to function properly.  There typically is not anything wrong with the baby’s liver, it is just that the bilirubin (a yellow pigment) in the baby’s red blood cells is not being fully removed.  Many parents see this and ask can jaundice hurt a baby?  Usually the answer is no, but there are exceptions that our Portland medical malpractice lawyer explains kernicterus in order to protect families and their loved ones.

What is Jaundice?

As explained above, jaundice is the yellow discoloration that a person could have to his or her eyes, skin, or other tissue.  It is a signal that the liver is not removing all of the bilirubin.  There could be other conditions causing jaundice like this (including some forms of cancer like pancreatic cancer), but jaundice is usually related to the liver in one form or another.  

Infants who have a liver that is not filtering out all of the bilirubin are going to start to have that yellow discoloration.  Usually, no treatment is necessary and the jaundice works itself away after a few days.  Jaundice in a baby is usually present in the first week of live and then will subside.

Inasmuch as jaundice is normal, sometimes even expected, it is not usually harmful or dangerous to a baby.  But there are exceptions to this rule.

What is Kernicterus?

If jaundice is allowed to continue for a time period that is longer than a week, or if there are some other aggravating factors, jaundice could be a sign of a more dangerous condition known as kernicterus.  This condition could result in brain damage to an infant, including permanent damage.

Kernicterus is when there is an excessive buildup of bilirubin in the blood.  This excessive buildup can become poisonous to the body and its organs.  The brain is usually most affected by the buildup of bilirubin, especially in an infant with a rapidly developing brain.  Kernicterus is when that buildup because severe and excessive and therefore results in causing damage due to the caustic nature of the bilirubin.

Kernicterus is also known as acute bilirubin encephalopathy, which just highlights the medical name that the damage is acute (meaning sudden and traumatic), from bilirubin, and damaging the brain (encephalopathy).

Warning Signs When Jaundice Could Become Dangerous and Kernicterus 

Jaundice itself is not an emergency.  But prolonged jaundice may be, as well as jaundice caused by all of these other symptoms.  In fact, some of these symptoms are so troubling that a parent should immediately schedule and go to the doctor.  Remember with a newborn, even minor injuries could have a large impact.  The fact that kernicterus can cause brain damage is always going to be a huge impact, including causing cerebral palsy or hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

Some of the warning signs of worsening jaundice include the following:

  • Skin becoming yellower and darker yellow
  • Abdomen becomes yellow
  • Whites of eyes are totally yellow
  • Baby is asking lethargic, lifeless, or difficult to awaken/arose
  • Feeding stops or refuses to feed
  • High-pitched cries
  • Poor or no weight gain, and
  • Other symptoms which are concerning.

In addition, there are some warning signs of kernicterus that should also be reviewed and well-known.  This includes the following:

  • Lifelessness in a baby
  • Difficulty to get a baby to wake up or react to any stimuli
  • High pitched crying that continues excessively
  • Not feeding at all or even attempting (not sucking)
  • High fever
  • Involuntary and uncontrolled movements 
  • Not responding to sound
  • Permanent upward gaze
  • Seizures, and
  • Other abnormal symptoms.

When Can Jaundice Hurt a Baby?  Now

When these conditions above are present in your baby, the answer to “can jaundice hurt a baby” is now yes, it can hurt your baby. And it starts right now when those symptoms are present.  This means that medical intervention is required.  If a hospital or healthcare provider, like a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional, fail to treat your baby in a timely manner, it can result in serious injury to your baby that is permanent and life changing such as cerebral palsy.  It can be Oregon medical malpractice and victim’s families should call our Portland medical malpractice lawyer for help.

Call our Oregon Birth Injury Law Firm for Jaundice or Kernicterus Injuries to Your Baby

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured or killed as a result of medical malpractice contact the Oregon Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Kuhlman Law at our number below or fill out the intake form.  We offer a free initial case evaluation and handle cases on a contingency fee which means that you pay no money unless we recover.

Our law firm handles cases throughout the state including Bend and Portland Oregon, Redmond, Central Oregon, Sisters, Madras, Multnomah County, Deschutes County, Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, Lane County, Medford, Gresham, La Grande, Albany, Medford, Beaverton, Umatilla, Pendleton,  Cottage Grove, Florence, Oregon City, Springfield, Keizer, Grants Pass, McMinnville, Tualatin, West Linn, Forest Grove, Wilsonville, Newberg, Roseburg, Lake Oswego, Klamath Falls, Happy Valley, Tigard, Ashland, Milwakie, Coos Bay, The Dalles,  St. Helens, Sherwood, Central Point, Canby, Troutdale, Hermiston, Silverton, Hood River, Newport, Prineville, Astoria, Tillamook, Lincoln City, Hillsboro, and Vancouver, Washington.

We also have an office in Minneapolis, Minnesota and take medical malpractice cases throughout the Twin Cities, including St. Paul, Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Dakota County, Washington County, Anoka County, Scott County, Blaine, Stillwater, and Saint Paul Minnesota.

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