A newborn infant can have many health complications that lead to long-lasting effects on the child. Most problems, however, are treatable if physicians detect and diagnose the issues fast enough.
Kernicterus is a serious condition that can occur when physicians fail to treat jaundice in a newborn. Kernicterus may stem from medical malpractice if the physician reasonably should have diagnosed and treated the jaundice sooner.
About infant jaundice and kernicterus
Jaundice refers to the yellowing of an infant's skin, sometimes seen after birth. It stems from a buildup of bilirubin in the blood. The main cause of jaundice in a newborn is the baby's liver incorrectly eliminating the bilirubin as it struggles to do so for the first time. Jaundice is a relatively common occurrence that will usually fade on its own without lasting health effects.
However, it is important for physicians to monitor infants with jaundice in case it does not go away on its own. If jaundice does not fade without treatment, physicians may need to step in to help the baby process bilirubin and lower its levels in the blood. Failure to treat newborn jaundice could lead to the development of kernicterus.
Kernicterus, or severe jaundice, can be a life-threatening health condition. Too much bilirubin collecting in the baby's blood could cause permanent brain damage, hearing loss, cerebral palsy, vision problems and other major health issues. It could be fatal in extreme cases.
Preventing kernicterus in a newborn
Kernicterus is almost always preventable. It occurs most often when physicians negligently fail to notice or treat jaundice in time to prevent the buildup of bilirubin. Physicians can reach timely diagnoses of jaundice through light meters and blood tests. Then, they can order treatments such as placing the baby under special lights to reverse jaundice.
Treatments are available to address jaundice in time to avoid kernicterus and serious related health complications. Parents of infants with permanent damages due to kernicterus may have grounds for medical malpractice lawsuits against negligent physicians for failure to diagnose or treat.