Medical experts with specialty in infants care have highlighted the causes and symptoms of Jaundice, a common condition in new-borns and preterm babies, which affects one in two infants globally, and responsible for one in five neonatal admissions in Nigeria.
According to a Neonatologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A, Dr Anne Hansen, Jaundice refers literally to the yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes of babies, who have high bilirubin levels in their blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigmented chemical that is released from red blood cells.
Likely factors that predispose new-borns to Jaundice according to the experts are: Normal Virginal delivery, inadequate supply of breast milk to infants in the first week of birth without infant formula; Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency, increased red blood cell mass and the immaturity of the new-borns liver, etc.
Hansen, however explained the symptoms of Jaundice saying if a baby has mild jaundice, he/she might have no other symptom than the slightly yellow discoloration, which starts at the top of the baby’s head and moves down from there. The earlier signs of Jaundice are seen on the scalp, the face and in the whites of the eyes. If the legs, soles of the feet and palms of hands are jaundiced, that probably means the baby has a high bilirubin level.
He therefore charged parents to visit the hospital If they see any of these signs in their new-borns and if they discover that the infants have very high bilirubin levels and are developing a brain injury, they will be lethargic, un-arousable and very sleepy. They may be agitated. They may have arching movements of their back. They may have a high-pitched cry or even seizures.
Dr Dion Alexandrou, a consultant paediatrician who specialises in caring for new-born babies at the Portland Hospital, says deficiency of G6PD could make a baby sleep more than a newborn should, it may seem lethargic and will not cry for feeds every three to four hours as a normal newborn will do.’ Even at this stage, if caught in time, phototherapy (which involves putting the baby under a fluorescent light) can help as it makes the bilirubin more soluble and therefore easier to flush out of the body.
He said if the baby is left untreated, lasting damage is caused to the brain. “Affected babies often lose their ability to move and they also develop uncontrollable movements of the body and hearing loss, once the damage is done, there is no way it can be reversed”, he asserted.
Alexandrou further urged parents to ensure that proper tests are conducted on their infants to establish the degree of the condition, because many professionals often rely on a visual inspection, but this is not enough to see how severe the jaundice is. ‘Jaundice can look worse than or not as bad as it really is to be sure, you need to do a blood test to check for the levels for bilirubin, and this is what the recent NICE guidelines recommend.