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Are exchange transfusion procedures for jaundice worth the risk?

Doctors have long believed that babies suffering from jaundice are at risk of developing traumatic brain injuries. However, the procedure used to treat serious jaundice is highly invasive and poses its own set of risks. The risks include blood clots, unstable blood pressure and bleeding, which can lead to traumatic brain injuries, too.

However, new research indicates that the brain injury risk may be extremely low if a jaundiced baby is otherwise healthy.

For lawyers with brain injury cases involving babies with jaundice, this new research presents a very important question: Are invasive jaundice treatments for babies worth the risk of traumatic brain injury?

What is infant jaundice and how is it treated?

Babies who develop jaundice show outward symptoms of yellowed skin and eyes. The yellowing results from high levels of liver-produced bilirubin in the bloodstream. In healthy babies, the liver breaks down bilirubin, but in jaundiced babies, the liver can't break it down.

In most cases, jaundice doesn't require treatment, and it resolves itself. Non-invasive phototherapy treatments can resolve more stubborn cases, but phototherapy doesn't always work.

In severe cases, doctors treat high bilirubin levels with a highly invasive exchange transfusion procedure. This procedure replaces the infant's blood with blood from a matching donor. However, exchange transfusions are risky. Sometimes, babies suffer from blood clots, bleeding or unstable blood pressure following an exchange transfusion procedure.

High bilirubin levels left untreated can lead to kernicterus, a type of cerebral palsy associated with traumatic brain injury. Therefore, pediatric doctors have to decide which is riskier to a baby's health: (1) waiting to see if the high bilirubin levels resolve without treatment, or (2) treating babies with a risky exchange transfusion procedure.

New research sheds light on the issue

Recently, infant jaundice researchers examined medical records from two groups of over 100,000 babies born between 1995 and 2011. They discovered that high bilirubin babies rarely contract kernicterus unless they present additional risk factors. The researchers confirmed that even babies with very high bilirubin levels are not likely to develop kernicterus without additional risk.

In light of this new research, doctors may want to avoid exchange transfusion procedures for otherwise healthy babies with high bilirubin levels. Indeed, given the blood clot risk and other dangers associated with exchange transfusion procedures, it may be safer to leave high bilirubin levels as they are in a lot of cases.

New research can help win brain injury cases

When litigating a brain injury case in Vermont, attorneys need to consider every angle. Sometimes, cutting-edge research revealed by new case studies can help a plaintiff win a civil lawsuit, but the information might not be readily available. This is where a brain injury lawsuit consultant can help. A brain injury lawsuit consultant will have his or her finger on the pulse of every new development that could mean the difference between winning and losing a client's case.

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