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Definition of «Kernicterus»

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Kernicterus: A type of brain damage associated with athetoid cerebral palsy (uncontrollable movement of the face, body, arms, and legs) and deafness. Kernicterus is due to marked jaundice in the newborn period. The high blood level of the pigment bilirubin results in its deposition in the brain, which damages the brain.

Some newborn babies are at elevated risk for marked jaundice and therefore the risk of kernicterus. A baby who has bruises at birth is more likely to develop jaundice. A baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy is susceptible to jaundice because its immature liver may not be able to get rid of enough bilirubin. A baby who is yellow in the first 24 hours of life may get dangerously jaundiced. Babies who do not eat much are more likely to get jaundice. Gnetics can also play a role. A postive family history is a clue. So is ancestry. A baby born to an East Asian or Mediterranean family is at a higher risk of becoming very jaundiced. Also, jaundice is harder to see in babies with darker skin tones. Some families inherit a G6PD problem, and their babies are more likely to become jaundiced.

The level of bilirubin is monitored in newborns to determine whether treatment is needed to prevent kernicterus. Today no baby should develop brain damage from untreated jaundice. If a baby gets too jaundiced, the baby can be treated with phototherapy. The baby can be put under blue lights most of the day. If the baby gets very jaundiced, an exchange transfusion can be done. Kernicterus is also called bilirubin encephalopathy.

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