ComplicationsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Severe jaundice, if left untreated, can cause serious complications.
Acute bilirubin encephalopathy
Bilirubin is toxic to cells of the brain. If a baby has severe jaundice, there's a risk of bilirubin passing into the brain, a condition called acute bilirubin encephalopathy. Prompt treatment may prevent significant permanent damage.
The following signs may indicate acute bilirubin encephalopathy in a baby with jaundice:
- Listless, sick or difficult to wake
- High-pitched crying
- Poor sucking or feeding
- Backward arching of the neck and body
Kernicterus is the syndrome that occurs if acute bilirubin encephalopathy causes permanent damage to the brain. Kernicterus may result in:
- Involuntary and uncontrolled movements (athetoid cerebral palsy)
- Permanent upward gaze
- Hearing loss
- Intellectual impairment
- Jaundice. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Jaundice.aspx. Accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
- Management of hyperbilirubinemia in the newborn infant 35 or more weeks of gestation. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy. http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;114/1/297. Accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
- Neonatal hyperbilirubinemia. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec19/ch274/ch274b.html?qt=neonatal%20hyperbilirubinemia&alt=sh. Accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
- Lease M, et al. Assessing jaundice in infants of 35-week gestation and greater. Current Opinion in Pediatrics. 2010;22:352.
- Cohen RS, et al. Understanding neonatal jaundice: A perspective on causation. Pediatric Neonatology. 2010;51:143.
- Wong RJ, et al. Treatment of unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia in term and late preterm infants. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
- Moerschel SK, et al. A practical approach to neonatal jaundice. American Family Physician. 2008;77:1255.