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Does jaundice always cause a problem?
Many babies have some jaundice. Jaundice can develop when red blood cells break down and bilirubin is left. It is normal for some red blood cells to die every day. In the womb, the mother's liver removes bilirubin for the baby, but after birth the baby's liver must remove the bilirubin. In some babies, the liver might not be developed enough to efficiently get rid of bilirubin. When too much bilirubin builds up in a new baby's body, the skin and whites of the eyes might look yellow. This yellow coloring is called jaundice. The yellow color does not hurt the baby's skin, but the bilirubin goes to the brain as well as to the skin. When severe jaundice goes untreated for too long, it can cause brain damage and a condition called kernicterus.
What is kernicterus?
Who can develop kernicterus?
Any baby with untreated jaundice is at risk for kernicterus. This does not mean that every baby with yellow skin will have brain damage. Most babies with jaundice get better by themselves. If their skin is very yellow, they might need phototherapy treatment. If phototherapy does not lower the baby's bilirubin levels, the baby may need an exchange transfusion.
What are some warning signs and symptoms of kernicterus?
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