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Was your baby's hyperbilirubinemia undiagnosed?

Most everyone knows that when a baby has jaundice his or her eyes, tissues and skin turn a yellowish color, but that is often the extent of their knowledge on the subject. The yellow color comes from a substance called bilirubin that results from the breakdown of red blood cells in the body.

Jaundice actually alludes to a potentially dangerous condition called hyperbilirubinemia, which is characterized by the buildup of bilirubin in a baby's tissues and blood. Everyone produces bilirubin and the liver is responsible for excreting it, but some babies' bodies are unable to get rid of it.

Why does this happen?

It's not as uncommon as you would think. In fact, approximately 80 percent of preterm babies and 60 percent of full-term babies develop jaundice and hyperbilirubinemia. If you suffered from Rh disease during your pregnancy or have diabetes, the chances increase.

The placenta excretes the bilirubin during pregnancy, and upon birth, your baby's liver is supposed to begin handling this operation. When it fails to do so, it could be due to one of the following:

  • Your newborn's liver may not function properly.
  • Your newborn could have too many red blood cells, which produces too much bilirubin when they break down.
  • Your infant may suffer from Rh disease.
  • Your newborn's limited ability to excrete bilirubin in the first few days of life could cause it as well.

If your baby suffers from jaundice any time after the first few days of life, it could be due to something in your breast milk or feeding issues that cause lack of urination, dehydration and a buildup of bilirubin.

Why is it dangerous?

If too much bilirubin makes its way to the brain, it could result in brain damage and seizures. Doctors should be on the lookout for jaundice, poor feeding and lethargy in the first few days of life. Any signs within the first 24 hours after birth require immediate medical attention. Between days two and seven, this condition remains serious. In the latter days of the first week, it could also indicate an infection, which could be dangerous for a newborn since the immune system has not yet built up.

Diagnosing hyperbilirubinemia early is crucial to keeping bilirubin levels from reaching dangerous proportions. If it turns out that your doctor missed this diagnosis, and your baby now faces permanent brain damage, you may want to consider looking into your legal options, including the possibility of filing a medical malpractice claim.

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