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
Kernicterus is the syndrome that occurs if acute bilirubin encephalopathy causes permanent damage to the brain. Kernicterus may result in:
April 03, 2014
- Involuntary and uncontrolled movements (athetoid cerebral palsy)
- Permanent upward gaze
- Hearing loss
- Improper development of tooth enamel
- Wong RJ, et al. Clinical manifestations of unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia in term and late preterm infants. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 7, 2013.
- Management of hyperbilirubinemia in the newborn infant 35 or more weeks of gestation. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/114/1/297.full.html. Accessed Nov. 7, 2013.
- Hay WW, et al. Current Diagnosis & Treatment: Pediatrics. 21st ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com /resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=14. Accessed Nov. 7, 2013.
- Wong RJ, et al. Evaluation of unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia in term and late preterm infants. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 7, 2013.