Hyperbilirubinemia and Jaundice – Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Did your child have hyperbilirubinemia at birth? The Fitzgerald Law Firm has successfully handled birth injury cases involving hyperbilirubinemia and jaundice.

The Fitzgerald Law Firm is a New York law firm that has an extensive practice in the field of birth injury malpractice.  The firm has an outstanding record, with over a hundred settlements and jury verdicts over one million dollars, including one case involving hyperbilirubinemia that resulted in a verdict totaling $31,575,000.  Read about some of the firm’s birth injury verdicts and settlements.

If you would like a free consultation with the birth injury lawyers from The Fitzgerald Law Firm, call toll free at 1-800-323-9900 or submit the firm’s free online consultation form.

What is Hyperbilirubinemia?

Hyperbilirubinemia is a condition where excess bilirubin is found in the blood.  During the breakdown of red blood cells, bilirubin is released, naturally elevating the blood bilirubin levels slightly.  However, infants are not always able to excrete the excess bilirubin as easily as adults so it can build up, resulting in elevated levels in the plasma that can be dangerous.  When bilirubin concentration does increase, it can result in a yellow coloring of the skin known as jaundice.

The placenta usually carries out the job of getting rid of excess bilirubin, but after birth, the infant’s liver must take over the job.  There are several causes of hyperbilirubinemia in newborns:

  • Birth trauma such as a forceps delivery, cephalohematoma, or cutaneous bruising
  • Drugs such as Pediazole or Chloromycetin
  • Physiological jaundice in the normal response to the liver’s initial difficulty in removing excess bilirubin
  • Jaundice in about 2% of breast-fed babies due to dehydration or low caloric intake
  • Jaundice from hemolysis resulting from hemolytic disease (typically Rh disease), bleeding, or excess red blood cells
  • Jaundice from an improperly functioning liver, which cannot process the excess bilirubin.

Approximately 60-80 percent of newborns and pre-term infants do develop some form of hyperbilirubinemia.  Symptoms include the obvious yellowing of the skin, lethargy, and poor feeding.  Diagnosing hyperbilirubinemia typically involves testing directly or indirectly bilirubin levels.  Failure to diagnose hyperbilirubinemia may be medical malpractice.

Treatment of Hyperbiliruninemia

If an infant is diagnosed with hyperbilirubinemia, there are several treatment options available.

  • Phototherapy:  bilirubin reacts to a certain wavelength of blue light, so by shining the light over the infants entire body for several hours, bilirubin levels can be reduced.  Sometimes a special fiber optic blanket is used.
  • Blood exchange transfusion:  small amounts of blood are given and then withdrawn to increase red blood cell count and lower bilirubin levels.
  • Stop breastfeeding
  • Treatment of a cause of hyperbilirubinemia such as infection or Rh disease.

If blood bilirubin levels do increase to a very high level, bilirubin can cross the blood-brain barrier, causing bilirubin encephalopathy (kernicterus).  Kernicterus can cause seizures, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, vision damage, and death.  Kernicterus can be prevented by treatment of hyperbilirubinemia, so it is important to treat it early before severe symptoms result.  Failure to treat hyperbilirubinemia and delay in treatment of hyperbilirubinemia is medical malpractice.

Source: Hyperbilinemia and Jaundice, University of Virginia Health System, 2007.  http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/uvahealth/peds_hrnewborn/hyperb.cfm

American Academy of Family Physicians, February 15, 2002.  http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020215/599.html