Spectrum of outcome in infants with extreme neonatal jaundice


Thor Willy Ruud Hansen, MD, PhD, Department of Paediatrics, Rikshospitalet, NO-0027 Oslo, Norway (Tel. +47 23 074 573, fax. +47 23 072 960, e-mail. t.w.r.hansen@klinmed.uio.no)


The increasing number of case reports on neurologic sequelae related to hyperbilirubinaemia may represent a re-emergence of kernicterus in the industrialized world. However, not much has been written about infants who survived extreme levels of serum bilirubin without neurologic damage. We present three cases of extreme neonatal hyperbilirubinaemia, all with peak serum bilirubin levels >600 mmol/L. Two of the infants developed neurologic sequelae, but the third infant did not. In contrast to the two with sequelae, the infant without sequelae was female, had a positive Coombs' test, less clinical signs compatible with bilirubin encephalopathy, and a shorter exposure to serum bilirubin values >400 mmol/L.

Conclusion: The basic mechanism of bilirubin neurotoxicity remains unknown, and it is not clear why some infants do not develop neurologic injury at serum bilirubin levels at which others do. We speculate that a comparison between patients with sequelate and those without may yield important information.