Thursday, July 18, 2013

Kernicterus Definition

Kernicterus is a disease in newborns that leads to brain damage if not treated promptly. The problem stems from the baby's liver when it hasn't developed entirely before birth. During gestation, old bilirubin from the baby is filtered in the mother's liver. If a baby is born prematurely and the liver has not developed, the liver is not capable of filtering old bilirubin, so jaundice occurs. If not treated, jaundice leads to brain damage in the newborn.


    Jaundice is characterized by a yellowing of the skin and the white part of the eye. It begins in the face and spreads to the chest, neck, and arms. Babies with darker skin may be more difficult to notice jaundice, but it can be seen in the eyes. As the bilirubin continues to accumulate in the blood, the jaundice gradually spreads to the entire body.

Brain Damage

    According to the Center for Disease Control, 60% of babies develop jaundice. Jaundice is common in newborns as their liver adapts to clearing the body from excess bilirubin. Mild jaundice is not harmful, but severe jaundice left untreated reaches the brain and causes damage.

Risk Factors

    Although most babies develop some type of jaundice, risk factors increase the chances of the kernicterus. Risk factors are mostly hereditary. If a baby is born with a sibling who has developed jaundice previously, there is a greater risk of the newborn developing it as well. Premature babies are most at risk, since their livers have not fully developed.

Warning Signs

    Besides jaundice, some other warning signs occur before the onset of kernicterus. A fussy baby who will not eat or sleep along with yellowing of the skin is at high risk of kernicterus. Babies who do not have at least four wet diapers in 24 hours are also at risk. Additionally, a baby who does not suckle well or refuses the bottle may be warning signs of kernicterus.


    Phototherapy treatment is used to lower the levels of bilirubin in babies. A blue light is placed over the baby to inactivate the bilirubin. The treatment does not hurt the baby, and it can be done in the doctor's office or at home. You can ask for a bilirubin test when you go home with your baby.


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