Jaundice in newborns
Kernicterus is a rare but serious complication of untreated jaundice in babies. It'scaused by excess bilirubin damaging the brain or central nervous system.
In newborn babies with very high levels of bilirubin in the blood (hyperbilirubinaemia), the bilirubin can cross the thin layer of tissue that separates the brain and blood (the blood-brain barrier).
The bilirubin can damage the brain and spinal cord, which can be life threatening. Brain damage caused by high levels of bilirubin is also called bilirubin encephalopathy.
Your baby may be at risk of developing kernicterus if:
Kernicterus is now extremely rare inthe UK,affecting less than 1 inevery 100,000 babies.
Initial symptoms of kernicterus in babies include:
As kernicterus progresses, additional symptoms can include seizures (fits) andarching of theneck or spine.
Treatment for kernicterus involves using an exchange transfusion as used in the treatment of newborn jaundice .
If significant brain damage occurs before treatment, a child can develop serious and permanentproblems, such as:
Blood supplies oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide. It is pumped around the body by the heart.
The brain controls thought, memory and emotion. It sends messages to the body controlling movement, speech and senses.
Jaundice is a common and usually harmless condition in newborn babies that causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
Symptoms of jaundice usually appear about three days after birth and disappear by the time the baby is two weeks old.
Jaundice is caused by too much bilirubin in the blood. This is known as hyperbilirubinaemia.
Your baby will be checked for jaundice within 72 hours of being born, but you should keep an eye out for signs of the condition after you return home.
You should see your GP or midwife if your baby develops jaundice. They'll be able to assess whether treatment is needed.
Kernicterus is a rare but serious complication of untreated jaundice in babies caused by excess bilirubin damaging the brain or central nervous system.