Jaundice following birth is a relatively common occurrence. Bilirubin is the substance that causes the yellow colouration of skin and eyeballs associated with jaundice. A dangerously high level of bilirubin is known as hyperbilirubinemia. Jaundice that appears in the first 24 hours of life may indicate an underlying issue which requires urgent investigation. If it is not treated properly or in good time, complications can arise and in some serious cases, a rare type of brain damage known as kernicterus can be caused. Kernicterus occurs when a baby’s levels of bilirubin become so high that they affect the brain.
Kernicterus can have a devastating effect on a newborn and can cause difficulties with mobility, sight and hearing as well as serious learning difficulties in the future.
Premature babies are particularly at risk of kernicterus as are babies with hyperbilirubinaemia. It usually presents in the first week of life and the most common symptom is severe jaundice together with poor feeding pattern, an absent startle reflex or a high pitched cry.
Bilirubin levels should be monitored post-delivery, particularly where there are signs of jaundice whereupon phototherapy or other necessary treatment or intervention should be commenced at an early stage.
In most cases, jaundice is treated effectively and clears up without complication. However, if the onset or severity of the jaundice is not considered and treated appropriately, a corresponding absence or delay in treatment could lead to hyperbilirubinaemia and kernicterus.
There are calls for kernicterus to be classed as a “never event” ie those serious medical incidents that are largely preventable due to the extent of guidelines in existence to advise and warn medical personnel about them. Indeed it was proposed in a recent government publication that kernicterus be added to the NHS list of such events however the proposal was rejected. Calls continue for it to be classed accordingly.
If you are concerned that your child may have suffered as a result of a delay in diagnosing and treating hyperbilirubinemia or kernicterus, Worthingtons Solicitors have an experienced team of litigators who specialise in birth injury claims, and who will gladly provide advice on all aspects of medical negligence claims in Northern Ireland.
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