High levels of bilirubin that cause severe jaundice can result in serious complications if not treated.

Acute bilirubin encephalopathy

Bilirubin is toxic to cells of the brain. If a baby has severe jaundice, there's a risk of bilirubin passing into the brain, a condition called acute bilirubin encephalopathy. Prompt treatment may prevent significant lasting damage.

The following may indicate acute bilirubin encephalopathy in a baby with jaundice:

  • Listlessness or difficulty waking
  • High-pitched crying
  • Poor sucking or feeding
  • Backward arching of the neck and body
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

Kernicterus

Kernicterus is the syndrome that occurs if acute bilirubin encephalopathy causes permanent damage to the brain. Kernicterus may result in:

  • Involuntary and uncontrolled movements (athetoid cerebral palsy)
  • Permanent upward gaze
  • Hearing loss
  • Improper development of tooth enamel
Apr. 03, 2014

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