Putting a Spotlight On

Each month The Arc of New Jersey Family Institute spotlights a different developmental disability to help build awareness and educate others about the disorder. Learn more below.


What is Kernicterus?

Kernicterus is a form of brain damage caused by excessive jaundice. The substance which causes jaundice, bilirubin, is so high that it can move out of the blood into brain tissue.

What are some symptoms of Kernicterus?

Drowsiness or lack of energy.

Uncontrollable or very high-pitched/shrill crying.


Trouble feeding.

Limpness or stiffness of the whole body.

Unusual eye movements.

Muscle spasms or reduced muscle tone.

What are the causes of Kernicterus?

Some people think that birth injuries are mistakes made at the child’s birth that affects him or her for a lifetime –or at least for a few years. While this is generally true, Kernicterus may qualify as a birth injury if a physician fails to detect and monitor the high levels of bilirubin.

While no parent or doctor could have caused Kernicterus in the baby,it’s the doctor’s responsibility to treat the condition before it escalates. Mistreatment of this condition could result in brain damage that will change the infant’s life forever.

Some cases of kernicterus occur randomly, for no apparent reason (sporadically). According to the medical literature, excess levels of bilirubin (hyperbilirubinemia) alone is not sufficient to produce kernicterus. Potential causes may include Rh disease and/or unknown factors.

How is Kernicterus diagnosed?

Babies usually have their highest bilirubin level when they’re 3 to 5 days old. Newborns should be watched for jaundice every 8 to 12 hours during the first 2 days of their lives. They should then be rechecked before they’re 5 days old.





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