Icterus, more commonly referred to as jaundice, is a yellowing of the skin and sclerae (the whites of the eyes) due to an excess of a compound known as bilirubin in the blood. This yellow tinge can also extend to the body fluids of a person who has jaundice, and depending on the levels of bilirubin, the skin, eyes and fluids can also appear brown.
Hyperbilirubinemia is a condition that can affect newborns, although it is very rare. Many infants can experience jaundice but premature infants are more susceptible to this very severe classification of the disease. Newborns that are at high risk should always be closely monitored for hyperbilirubinemia and the usual treatment is phototherapy.
In a serious case of infant hyperbilirubinemia, a blood transfusion may be required, and if a physician fails to diagnose or treat the condition, the infant could die.
A misdiagnosis or late treatment can change the lives of a newborn baby and its family, and if you or a loved one has experienced serious personal injury from the mistreatment of jaundice, you may be entitled to compensation for the physical and mental pain and suffering that you endured as a result. Our firm understands that mounting hospital bills, rehabilitative services, and emotional trauma come at a very high price, and we will help you fight to receive the MAXIMUM amount of compensation available to you.
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In the case of normal infant jaundice, the condition will likely disappear after approximately two weeks. Beyond that window, the baby may need to be readmitted to the hospital and undergo one or a combination of the following treatment options for severe jaundice:
- Exchange blood transfusions: Blood is drawn repeatedly and filtered then reintroduced to the baby’s bloodstream to dilute the amount of bilirubin in its system. This is not the preferred treatment because the infant will have to be in ICU for some time.
- Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIg): A transfer of immunoglobulin that will lower levels of any remaining antibodies from the mother, which may be attacking the baby’s red blood cells.
- Phototherapy: The preferred method of treatment. Under blue rays, the infant is protected by a plastic shield and from ultraviolet light, while still benefiting from the rays’ ability to manipulate the structure of the bilirubin molecules, allowing them to be excreted.
In some cases, the jaundice may be caused by a factor that cannot be treated with one of the three options. In that instance, the infant may need special drugs or a surgery to treat the condition. Because the infant is so fragile, it is critical that doctors diagnose severe infant jaundice as swiftly as possible and treat it immediately.
Complications From Infant Jaundice
Hesitating to diagnose or treat an infant with severe jaundice can lead to a lifetime of dire consequences for the child and their family, or may lead to death.
Some of the complications that can arise from infant jaundice include:
- Acute Bilirubin Encephalopathy: Bilirubin is toxic to brain cells, so if it builds up in the infant’s brain, the infant may experience fever, sluggishness, high-pitched crying, aching of the back and neck, and poor feeding. ABE can lead to Kernicterus.
- Kernicterus (nuclear jaundice): Potentially fatal condition that occurs if ABE progresses.
Jaundice Signs & Symptoms
The primary indicator of jaundice in infants is the yellowish coloring the eyes and skin of a baby will have if they do indeed have hyperbilirubinemia. While a moderate bout of the condition is normal in babies, the following are some of the most commonly associated signs and symptoms of severe infant jaundice.
- Inability to gain weight
- Jaundice lasting more than 3 weeks
- Poor feeding
- Yellow abdomen or limbs
- Yellow sclerae
Infants with severe jaundice can experience brain damage or death if not treated immediately, so parents should be proactive in looking for these warning signs.
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