Kernicterus - Medical Malpractice Lawyer
LEGAL HELPLINE: ☎ 855 804 7125
A common condition in newborn babies is known as hyperbilirubinemia. The condition which is often accompanied by jaundice is treatable, however if it is not properly tended to at an early stage, it can cause brain damage called kernicterus which is similar to athetoid cerebral palsy. While nearly sixty percent of all newborns have some level of jaundice during their first week of life, very few of these babies will need further treatment or develop complications. When neonatal hyperbilirubinemia does occur it may be an indication of a more serious condition such as an infection, a metabolic disorder, hemolytic disease, an endocrine disorder or a problem in the liver. Failure to diagnose this condition at an early stage can amount to medical malpractice - there are time limits so it is best to see a kernicterus medical malpractice lawyer at an early stage.
Neonatal conditions including hypoglycemia, kernicterus and hip dysplacia arise shortly after a child is born and can place the child at serious risk of permanent disability or death. Healthcare professionals should be vigilant and should be aware of the warning signs of these problems and failure to act appropriately and in a timely manner may mean that they are negligent and liable to pay compensation for medical malpractice for any harm suffered by the child as a result of their inaction. Our medical malpractice lawyers can help you to exercise your legal rights to obtain compensation. Our lawyers will deal with your claim using a contingency fee arrangement which means if you don't succeed in receiving compensation then your lawyers won't get paid. You will receive a complete professional service from lawyers who specialise in claiming compensation for personal injury caused as a result of negligence. For advice at no charge and without obligation on kernicterus just complete the contact form or call the helpline and a kernicterus medical malpractice lawyer will telephone you immediately to discuss your neonatel injury compensation claim without further obligation.
Kernicterus is a relatively rare condition which can lead to cerebral palsy. Those involved in neonatal care should be aware of the signs and symptoms of an infant suffering from kernicterus and failure to take appropriate action is likely to be medical malpractice.
Kernicterus is caused by an excess of bilirubin in an infant's bloodstream which is a fairly common condition however if left untreated it can result in hyperbilirubinemia which if not dealt with causes kernicterus which is a very serious untreatable injury with symptoms similar at ataxic cerebral palsy. There are numerous factors which should alert healthcare practitioners to a child who is at risk including any combination of the use of oxytocin or valium during pregnancy, gestational diabetes, premature birth, breastfeeding, birth trauma, infections, an Rh or ABO incompatibility between the mother and the baby, Asian or Native American descent, or a family history of the condition. The signs of an infant being at risk usually appear within three or four days of birth and even if a child appears to recover from the initial problem there is still a risk of slow delay in the development of motor skills, developmental issues, mental retardation and deafness. There can also be problems feeding, low muscle tone, lethargy and a high-pitched cry which may be symptomatic of kernicterus.
Physicians should be on alert with all newborn babies for any of the signs of kernicterus which can often be treated very simply by the use of appropriate medical lighting and increasing fluid intake. In urgent serious cases a full blood transfusion may be appropriate to remove all blood corrupted with bilirubin.
Jaundice is caused by an accumulation of unconjugated bilirubin that deposits itself in the mucus membranes and the skin. This is noticed by the skin becoming an orange or yellow color. Hyperbilirubinemia can develop in newborns for a variety of reasons and there are several risk factors that can contribute to the condition. Such factors can include: the use of oxytocin or valium during pregnancy, gestational diabetes, premature birth, breastfeeding, birth trauma, infections, an Rh or ABO incompatibility between the mother and the baby, Asian or Native American descent, or a family history of the condition.
Unfortunately, the toxic effects of bilirubin on the brain which cause kernicterus cannot be undone. Signs of a problem are usually noticed within three to four days after delivery. Even if the baby survives the initial problem, there can be a slow delay in the development of motor skills, developmental issues, mental retardation, and deafness. There can also be problems feeding, low muscle tone, lethargy and a high pitched cry which may be symptomatic of kernicterus and resultant athetoid cerebral palsy caused by hyperbilirubinemia.
The main way to treat newborns with jaundice in order to avoid the development of kernicterus is to increase the fluid intake and use bilirubin lights to lower the blood levels. If the baby is considered to be at critical levels with the threat of kernicterus high, an exchange transfusion can be done to remove the blood with excessive amounts of bilirubin and replace it with blood that is safer. If the hyperbilirubinemia is because of breastfeeding, the baby will need to receive supplements and increase fluids, while continuing to feed.
Because of the risk of brain damage any sign of jaundice in babies that could lead to kernicterus should be carefully monitored. There is no absolute level of jaundice that is considered to be dangerous however intervention by medical practitioners usually takes place at a level of 20 milligrams of bilirubin per 100cc of blood. The warning signs of kernicterus may include:
- yellow or orange skin tones
- baby is not as alert and awake
- increased sleepiness, so much that it is hard to wake the baby
- high-pitched cry
- weakness, limpness, or floppiness
- poor sucking or nursing
- baby's body is arched like a bow
Any baby with untreated jaundice is at risk of kernicterus however most babies with jaundice get better by themselves. It is normal for some red blood cells to die everyday and in newborns the liver may not be sufficiently developed to efficiently remove bilirubin. The yellow colur does not hurt the baby's skin, but bilirubin in high concentrations can lead to brain damage. If a baby's skin is very yellow, then either photo-therapy treatment or an exchange transfusion may be necessary to stabilize bilirubin levels and reduce the risk of kernicterus. There are certain recognized risk factors for kernicterus which include:
- If the newborn has a sibling that had jaundice then there is increased risk.
- Babies born before 37 weeks may become jaundiced.
- Babies who do not eat much are more likely to get jaundice.
- A baby who is yellow in the first 24 hours of life may get dangerously jaundiced.
- A baby born to an East Asian or Mediterranean family is at a higher risk of jaundice.
- There are other hereditary jaundice and consequent kernicterus risk factors.
- A baby who has bruises at birth is likely to have jaundice. The healing of large bruises which involves the body processing red blood cells may cause high levels of bilirubin resulting in jaundice which can lead to kernicterus.
The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here