Complications

By 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
  • 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
April 03, 2014