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Kernicterus is a rare neurological condition that occurs in some newborns with severe jaundice.
See also: Newborn jaundice
Kernicterus is caused by very high levels of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is created in the body during the normal recycling of old red blood cells. High levels of bilirubin in the body can cause the skin to look yellow (which is called jaundice).
In some cases when there are extremely high levels of bilirubin in the body or the baby is extremely ill, the substance will move out of the blood and collect in the brain tissue. This can lead to serious neurological complications, including brain damage and hearing loss.
Kernicterus usually develops in the first week of life, but may be seen up until the third week. Newborns with Rh hemolytic disease that may lead to hydrops fetalis are at high risk for severe jaundice that leads to this condition. However, kernicterus has been seen in apparently healthy babies.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Fetus and Newborn. Hospital stay for healthy term newborns. Pedatrics. 2010; 125: 405.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Subcommittee on Hyperbilirubinemia Management of hyperbilirubinemia in the newborn infant 35 or more weeks of gestation. Pediatrics. 2004;114: 297-316.
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