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Infant jaundice is common but can lead to brain damage

Brain damage resulting from many different issues affects thousands of newborns and infants each year in our country.

One of the more common issues affecting babies is jaundice, which can lead to brain damage if not treated properly.

About jaundice

Jaundice is a common condition for newborns, especially those that are born prematurely. A yellow pigment called bilirubin that is present in the baby’s red blood cells is responsible for causing jaundice, which will appear as a yellowish tinge to the skin and eyes. If health care providers address the condition right away, jaundice will abate and there will be no further problems. If left untreated, however, the bilirubin levels in the child’s circulatory system will escalate. The danger here is that the increase of bilirubin will result in kernicterus, which is a kind of brain damage.

A more serious issue

If the jaundice condition goes untreated and there are high levels of bilirubin in the brain, the baby could experience acute bilirubin encephalopathy. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, high-pitched screaming or crying, an inability to suck or feed and a backward arching behavior.

Treatment for brain damage

Treatment for mild brain damage will normally include physical or occupational therapy and medications. However, if the diagnosis is traumatic brain injury, surgery may be necessary to reduce swelling and pressure on the brain and to repair the damage to blood vessels. Hypothermia therapy may also be an option for certain types of infant brain damage. This is a relatively new treatment that involves cooling the baby’s body temperature to a level between 33.5 degrees Celsius and 34.5 degrees Celsius for a minimum of three days after birth.

Looking forward

While the prognosis may not be positive for certain types of brain damage, an injury that originated with jaundice can often be successfully treated. The baby may grow up with only a slight disability and will be able to lead an otherwise normal life.

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