Jaundice is a common condition among newborn babies, resulting from abnormally high levels of bilirubin - a substance created by the body when it replaces red blood cells - in the baby's blood. Neonatal jaundice is the most common condition requiring medical attention in newborns, presenting as yellow coloration in the skin and sclera (whites of the eyes).
Normally, the liver breaks down and expels bilirubin from the body. Jaundice occurs when, for a variety of reasons, excess bilirubin in the body is not removed. While it is normal for a baby's bilirubin levels to be a bit elevated after birth, according to the National Institute of Health, it is possible for jaundice to have serious health consequences if it is not treated quickly and adequately.
Severe newborn jaundice can be an indicator of a more serious underlying condition, such as one of the following:
- An infection
- Enzyme deficiency
- Bleeding beneath the scalp (usually caused by difficult deliveries)
- Blood type mismatch between baby and mother
- Abnormal blood cell shape
Severe jaundice can also be caused or worsened by certain medications, genetic disorders, low oxygen levels, congenital infections and diseases affecting the biliary tract or liver.
Doctors and nurses should be on the alert for signs for jaundice after a baby is born, and an infant who appears jaundiced should have his or her bilirubin levels checked right away. While most treatment methods are effective in controlling bilirubin levels, a poor diagnosis or inappropriate treatment decisions have the potential to create serious health consequences. Rarely, complications from high bilirubin levels can cause brain damage or lead to cerebral palsy, deafness or kernicterus.
Birth injuries and similar complications in babies born with jaundice may be a sign of medical malpractice. To learn more about taking legal action against a negligent doctor or medical care facility, contact an attorney at Jeffrey M. Goldberg Law Offices in Chicago.