Kernicterus - Topic Overview
How is kernicterus diagnosed?
diagnoses kernicterus through a physical exam and knowledge of your child's
history of symptoms. Blood tests to measure your baby's bilirubin levels are
Once a baby has kernicterus, brain damage has already
occurred. For this reason, it is important to follow and treat jaundice before
bilirubin levels get too high.
Can kernicterus be prevented?
You may be able to
help prevent kernicterus by being aware of the symptoms of jaundice and making
sure your baby gets testing and treatment when needed.
- If your baby is still in the hospital and has
signs of jaundice, your doctor or nurse may do a transcutaneous bilirubin test. He or she will place a small device gently against your baby's skin to check the bilirubin level. A blood test can also check your baby's bilirubin level. A baby with a bilirubin level that requires treatment will
have light therapy (phototherapy). This is usually given in the hospital. In
very mild cases, you may treat your baby at home using lights the doctor gives
you. Do not be alarmed if your baby has to have phototherapy; it does not mean
that he or she is in danger of having brain damage. Doctors use this therapy to
help prevent bilirubin from getting to a dangerous level.
- Feed your
baby at least every 2 to 3 hours during the first week or two. This helps keep
bilirubin moving out of the body through urine and stool.
- Set up a well-baby check-up before you leave the hospital. Jaundice is usually at its worst around day 5, so have the visit within the first 5 days after your child's birth. The doctor will check your baby for jaundice that is of any concern.
- Call your doctor if you think that your baby's
skin on the tummy, arms, or legs is getting yellow or that yellowing on the
face is getting worse. Also look for yellowing in the whites of your baby's
eyes. Get medical help right away if your baby is jaundiced and is hard to
wake, acts very fussy, or is not feeding well.
- Talk to your doctor
about what makes your baby more likely to get kernicterus, such as:
- Being born early (more than 2 weeks
before the due date).
- Having jaundice in the first 24 hours after
- Having problems with breast-feeding.
bruises or bleeding on the head from a difficult birth.
- Having an
older brother or sister who received light therapy for jaundice.
How is it treated?
Quick treatment may help
prevent further brain damage. Treatment may start with light therapy and fluids
given through a needle into a vein (intravenous fluid replacement). Sometimes a baby may also have a tube placed down his or
her throat or into the stomach for feeding with a special type of formula. A
baby will also have a blood type test so that he or she can quickly get a
blood transfusion if it is needed. A blood transfusion
may be given to help remove extra bilirubin from the baby's blood.
Long-term treatment for brain damage
will depend on a child's specific problems. Typical treatment includes
physical therapy, speech therapy, and special