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Bilirubin & Newborn Jaundice

Info from California Birth Injury Attorneys

high bilirubin levels in newborns

When a red blood cell breaks down, which is a normal occurrence, a chemical known as bilirubin is left behind. When a baby is in the womb, the mother's liver removes the bilirubin for the baby as a regular function.

When the baby is born, the newborn's liver should take over this function from the mother and expel the bilirubin from the body. Some newborns have a higher than normal bilirubin level, resulting in jaundice.

This situation becomes dangerous for the newborn when bilirubin levels run high and severe jaundice occurs. Indication that this may be taking place can be yellow or orange skin, starting at the head and spreading to the toes. Other signs may be if a newborn is hard to wake up or won't wake up at all, is extremely fussy or won't breastfeed or suck from a bottle.

If your child was born with severe jaundice, it may have been because your obstetrician or doctor failed to:

  • Ask you about what medicines you are taking, as certain medications can make it difficult for your baby to expel bilirubin
  • Detect and treat an infection like rubella or syphilis – conditions known to cause newborn jaundice
  • Perform genetic testing to determine if your baby was prone to severe jaundice due to a genetic/inherited disorder

Jaundice is also more common in under-developed babies (babies born premature). In some cases, premature birth is the result of medical negligence.

The Necessity of Immediate Treatment

Doctors should be able to detect jaundice in a newborn. If they suspect it at all, they should immediately order a measure of the child's bilirubin levels. Doctors often use the following tests to determine if a new born has higher than normal bilirubin levels:

  • Measuring the blood count through a blood test
  • Coomb's test which analyzes red blood cells for antibodies
  • Taking a reticulocyte count

When jaundice is not severe, it usually goes away on its own, but some cases of newborn jaundice require treatment. Doctors must be cautious in determining which infants need treatment and which do not. To determine this, they will evaluate things like:

  • How high the bilirubin levels are (the higher, the more severe)
  • Whether or not the bilirubin levels are rising, and if so, how rapidly

In the most severe cases, high bilirubin levels in newborns can lead to cerebral palsy, permanent hearing loss, or a type of brain damage known as "Kernicterus."

Can I file a malpractice lawsuit for jaundice injuries?

Again, most cases of newborn jaundice go away on their own with little or no treatment. However, there are some severe cases that lead to further injury. In rare cases, high bilirubin levels and jaundice can induce permanently debilitating conditions such as cerebral palsy and brain damage. To learn more about your legal rights and options if your child suffered in this way, contact Bostwick & Peterson, LLP for an assessment of your claim.

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