ComplicationsBy Mayo Clinic Staff
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.