Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Kernicterus Overview

What is kernicterus?
A newborn with kernicterus has very high levels of bilirubin in the bloodstream, which causes damage to the brain and spinal cord. In the US, newborns are routinely tested for the presence of too much bilirubin in the bloodstream. Neonatal jaundice is a term used to describe higher than normal levels of bilirubin in a newborn. Kernicterus occurs when neonatal jaundice is severe. Kernicterus can cause cerebral palsy, muscle spasticity, dental problems, and hearing loss. In the US, less than 100 cases of kernicterus reported in the last 15 years.

What are the symptoms of kernicterus?
Symptoms of kernicterus include jaundice, brown urine, clay-colored stool, excessive sleepiness, and poor muscle tone.

How does the doctor treat kernicterus?
Treatment for kernicterus may include phototherapy, exchange blood transfusion, and medications to reduce the amount of bilirubin in the bloodstream.

Continue to Kernicterus Incidence

Last Updated: Aug 27, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Kernicterus References
  1. Bhutani VK, Donn SM, Johnson LH. Risk management of severe neonatal hyperbilirubinemia to prevent kernicterus. Clin Perinatol. 2005 Mar;32(1):125-39, vii. [15777825]
  2. Gourley GR. Breast-feeding, neonatal jaundice and kernicterus. Semin Neonatol. 2002 Apr;7(2):135-41. [12208098]
  3. Rubaltelli FF. Current drug treatment options in neonatal hyperbilirubinaemia and the prevention of kernicterus. Drugs. 1998 Jul;56(1):23-30. [9664196]
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