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Untreated Jaundice

What Is Jaundice?

A normal part of body rejuvenation is the breaking down of red blood cells and the release of bilirubin. In a healthy body, the liver gets rid of excess bilirubin to prevent harmful effects from this process. Jaundice is a condition caused when a baby's liver is not developed enough to remove the bilirubin that is released. It is characterized by a yellowing of the skin and eyes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 60 percent of babies suffer from this condition. In many cases, jaundice is harmless if properly treated, and will go away after a few weeks or a couple months.

Because it is common and generally not considered serious, many people do not realize the extent to which jaundice can harm a child. If left untreated, jaundice can result in kernicterus, a condition that results from brain damage due to excess bilirubin. The effects of kernicterus include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Hearing loss
  • Teeth and vision problems
  • Mental retardation

Signs and Symptoms of Serious Jaundice Cases

Many babies are diagnosed with jaundice early on. Parents may be given instructions on how to treat jaundice when they leave the hospital. However, in babies with severe jaundice, these treatment measures may not be enough to ward off dangerous levels of bilirubin. Therefore, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of the progression of jaundice.

The CDC lists the following severe warning signs of jaundice:

  • Baby is overly sleepy
  • Baby won't breastfeed or take a bottle
  • Baby needs less than four diaper changes a day
  • Strange eye movements
  • Arched back and high-pitched scream

Treatment and Care of Jaundice

Jaundice is generally diagnosed by the color of a baby's skin. Generally, it will be yellow in color. However, a doctor will need to order blood tests in order to determine the severity of jaundice and the proper treatment methods. Treatments include:

  • Light therapy: Baby placed under special lighting that changes the structure of bilirubin, allowing it to be excreted through the urine
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin: Transfusion of blood proteins that break down antibodies in the baby's blood — typically necessary when a mother and baby have different blood types
  • Exchange blood transfusion: In extreme cases, doctors may withdraw small amounts of blood from the baby, diluting out the bilirubin, and putting it back in the baby.

The best way to care for a baby with jaundice is through frequent feedings. Breast feeding and formula increase a baby's bowel movements, and thus the secretion of harmful bilirubin. However, extra feedings alone will not cure jaundice in severe cases.

Untreated Jaundice Prevention

Did your physician dismiss warning signs of severe jaundice? Are you having a difficult time remembering someone telling you about a jaundice blood test? Were you even aware your child had jaundice? Do you believe your son or daughter needs treatment that is more aggressive? The best way to prevent kernicterus is to not let jaundice go untreated. If a doctor failed to order the necessary tests to diagnose severe jaundice, or ignored the warning signs, he or she may be held liable.

The Birth Injury Team is a subsidiary of Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., made up of experienced attorneys and medical professionals. Our lawyers have more than 100 years of combined experience handling birth injury cases. We are dedicated to helping parents understand their child's condition and guiding them through the process of securing the care and support they need. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients across the United States.


Located in Philadelphia, Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., home of MyPhillyLawyer, serves clients in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States.

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