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Jaundice and kernicterus in newborns

New parents in Massachusetts should be able to celebrate the first days of life with their babies and look forward to a lifetime of joy and memories. However, the reality is that problems can be experienced in the first moments and days of life. When these issues are not properly handled by doctors or other medical providers, the results may be dangerous. Newborn jaundice is one condition that parents and health care providers alike should take seriously.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that jaundice is relatively common with approximately 60 percent of newborns having some level of jaundice. However, this common experience does not negate its potential severe outcomes. Left untreated, jaundice can develop into a condition known as kernicterus, a form of brain damage.

According to WebMD, a person’s liver is responsible for flushing bilirubin from the system. In babies with immature livers, this flushing cannot happen and the bilirubin levels rise. Jaundice results when this happens. Phototherapy may often successfully treat jaundice and requires professional intervention. Signs that a baby may have jaundice include the yellowing of skin or even of the white portions of the eyes. Difficulties eating and a lackluster demeanor may also be noticed.

If a physician does not recognize the symptoms of jaundice or provide appropriate treatment and it is allowed to progress to kernicterus, a baby’s brain may be permanently damaged. Some of the outcomes of kernicterus include issues with teeth, eyes and hearing. Some mental impairment and even cerebral palsy may even result.

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