Jaundice in newborn babies

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It was with sadness that we read this article about Vasili Kalisperas, now aged 2, who developed jaundice 24 hours after birth and suffered significant brain damage, and is now blind, deaf and quadriplegic as result.

24 hours after he was born, the student midwife sent to give him his first routine check at home seemed unaware of the risks of neonatal jaundice. She confirmed that Vasili had jaundice, but assured his parents that he would be fine.

The day after the visit, Vasili became bright orange and seemed unusually drowsy and unwilling to feed. His parents took him back to the hospital and within an hour of arrival he suffered massive brain damage. 

Neonatal Jaundice is a common and usually harmless condition that causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of their eyes. Other possible signs include:

  • dark urine
  • pale coloured stools (faeces) instead of bright yellow or orange coloured stools

Jaundice is caused by the build-up of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow substance produced when red blood cells are broken down.  The liver should filter the bilirubin from the blood, and change it into a form that allows it to be passed  out from the body in stools. In newborn babies, the bilirubin builds up too fast for the liver to filter it all out, causing jaundice.

Most cases of jaundice in babies do not require treatment as the symptoms normally pass within 10-14 days (although in a minority of cases symptoms can last longer).

Treatment is usually only recommended if tests show a baby has very high levels of bilirubin in their blood because there is a small risk that the bilirubin could pass into the brain and cause brain damage.

There are a number of very effective treatments used to quickly reduce bilirubin levels, including:

  • phototherapy - a special type of light shines on the skin which breaks down bilirubin
  • a type of blood transfusion known as an exchange transfusion.

Most babies respond well to treatment and can leave hospital after a few days.

The full story can be found here and further information about jaundice in newborns can be found on www.nhs.uk.




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