Our Michigan medical malpractice lawyers frequently represent children in cases against negligent doctors, clinics, and hospitals. One type of case is the failure to properly treat and diagnose the condition of hyperbilirubenemia.
Hyperbilirubinemia is a blood condition that affects infants, especially newborns and pre-term infants. Hyperbilirubinemia is a condition in which there is too much bilirubin in the blood. Red blood cells produce bilirubin when they break down, but infants, especially newborns and pre-term infants, do not excrete excess bilirubin as easily as adults do. This can cause a build-up of bilirubin in their blood and in other tissues and fluids in their bodies. This build-up is termed hyperbilirubinemia.
Low levels of bilirubin are not a concern, but with hyperbilirubinema, the excess can bilirubin cause severe health effects. Hyperbilirubinema can circulate through the baby's system and cause brain damage and seizures.
Hyperbilirubinemia causes a visible yellowing of the baby's skin known as jaundice. Other symptoms include poor feeding and general lethargy.
Hyperbilirubinemia is so prevalent among newborns and pre-term infants because their livers are often not yet fully developed. Prior to birth, the placenta excretes bilirubin, but after birth the child's liver takes over. Approximately 60% of newborns experience some form of hyperbilirubinemia. Among pre-term infants, this figure jumps to 80%.
Causes of Hyperbilirubinemia include:
- Birth trauma such as forceps delivery, cephalohematoma, or cutaneous bruising
- Drugs such as Pediazole and Chloromycetin
- Physiologic jaundice, occurring as a "normal" response to the baby's reduced ability to excrete bilirubin during the first few days of life
- Breast milk jaundice, affecting 2% of babies and caused by dehydration or low choleric intake
- Jaundice from hemolysis, resulting from bleeding, an excess of red blood cells, or the presence of a blood disease such as Rh disease
- Jaundice from inadequate liver function
Diagnosing hyperbilirubinemia normally involves directly or indirectly testing bilirubin levels in a baby's blood. Quite often, the time when jaundice developed can help a doctor make a diagnosis. Jaundice that is present at or shortly after birth is very serious and will require immediate treatment. Jaundice that appears on the second or third day after birth is usually physiologic. Jaundice that appears later in the first week of life is often due to an infection. Jaundice that appears in the second week of life is often related to breast milk.
Hyperbilirubinemia cannot be totally prevented, but early detection and treatment are integral to avoiding brain damage and seizures associated with severe hyperbilirubinemia. Failure to diagnose and treat hyperbilirubinemia can constitute medical malpractice. Because the injuries and damages to a baby can be so significant, it is important to contact an experienced Michigan medical malpractice lawyer to review your case immediately.
Parents can learn more about medical malpractice lawsuits by visiting our firm's medical malpractice section. Another great resource on Michigan medical malpractice cases is our FREE BOOK, "The Ultimate Medical Malpractice Handbook," which will answer many questions you may have on these cases.ly.