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Kernicterus

What is Kernicterus?

Kernicterus is a form of brain damage caused by excessive jaundice. It causes athetoid cerebral palsy and hearing loss. In some cases, kernicterus also causes problems with vision and teeth, and mental retardation.

In newborn babies with kernicterus, the liver makes too much yellow pigment called bilirubin. When too much bilirubin builds up in a new baby's body, the skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow. This yellow coloring is called jaundice. Jaundice is very common in newborn babies and usually goes away by itself. A little jaundice is not a problem, but a few babies have too much jaundice. If not treated, high levels of bilirubin can damage the brain.

Kernicterus occurs more often in premature infants than full-term infants.

Kernicterus is also called Bilirubin Encephalopathy.

Symptoms of Kernicterus

  • jaundice
  • decreased muscle tone (hypotonic)
  • increased muscle tone (hypertonic)
  • arching of the head and back backwards.
  • fever
  • mortormental retardation
  • olyhydramnios (before birth)

Who can develop Kernicterus?

Any baby with untreated jaundice is at risk of developing kernicterus.

Can Kernicterus be Treated?

Yes. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. Usually treatment for Kernicterus focuses on decreasing the amount of unconjugated bilirubin in the blood. Once the amount of unconjugated bilirubin in the blood decreases, jaundice should go away.

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