Delayed treatment of neonatal jaundice has disastrous consequences

Maternal and child health

Delayed Treatment of Neonatal Jaundice Has Disastrous Consequences


Neonatal jaundice, a condition characterized by yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes in newborn babies, occurs due to elevated levels of bilirubin, a yellow pigment produced during the breakdown of red blood cells. While most cases of jaundice are mild and resolve on their own within a few weeks, severe or untreated jaundice can lead to kernicterus, a potentially life-threatening condition that can cause permanent brain damage.

Causes and Risk Factors

Neonatal jaundice is common, affecting approximately 60% of newborns. It typically develops within the first few days of life as the baby's liver matures and begins to process bilirubin more efficiently. However, certain factors can increase the risk of severe jaundice, including:

Prematurity: Premature babies have immature livers and are more likely to develop jaundice.

Breastfeeding: Breast milk contains substances that can slow down the breakdown of bilirubin, leading to higher levels in breastfed babies.

Certain medical conditions: Underlying medical conditions, such as liver disease, gallbladder problems, and genetic disorders, can impair the body's ability to process bilirubin.

ABO blood group incompatibility: If the mother and baby have different blood types, the baby's immune system may attack the baby's red blood cells, leading to increased bilirubin production.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The primary symptom of neonatal jaundice is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Other signs may include:

Dark urine

Pale stools


Poor feeding


Diagnosis of neonatal jaundice is typically based on a physical examination and laboratory tests to measure bilirubin levels.

Complications of Untreated Jaundice

If left untreated, severe jaundice can lead to kernicterus, a condition that affects the brain's development and can cause permanent disabilities. Symptoms of kernicterus may include:

Muscle rigidity


Hearing loss

Intellectual disabilities

Cerebral palsy


Treatment for neonatal jaundice depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause. Mild jaundice usually resolves on its own within a few weeks. However, severe jaundice requires prompt treatment to prevent kernicterus.

Phototherapy: This involves exposing the baby to ultraviolet light, which breaks down bilirubin and allows for its excretion through the urine and feces.

Exchange transfusion: In severe cases, an exchange transfusion may be necessary to remove bilirubin-rich blood from the baby and replace it with fresh blood.

Medication: Cholestyramine or phenobarbital may be used to increase the excretion of bilirubin.

Importance of Early Detection and Treatment

Early detection and treatment of neonatal jaundice are crucial for preventing kernicterus and its devastating consequences. Parents and healthcare providers should be aware of the signs and risk factors for jaundice and seek medical attention promptly if concerns arise.

By recognizing the importance of timely intervention, we can significantly reduce the incidence of kernicterus and ensure the health and well-being of our newborns.

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