Chronic bilirubin encephalopathy: diagnosis and outcome

Semin Fetal Neonatal Med. 2010 Jun;15(3):157-63. doi: 10.1016/j.siny.2009.12.004. Epub 2010 Jan 29.


Chronic bilirubin encephalopathy (kernicterus) can be diagnosed using semi-objective criteria based on history, physical and neurological examination and laboratory findings including auditory brainstem responses and magnetic resonance imaging. Classical kernicterus is a well-described clinical tetrad of (i) abnormal motor control, movements and muscle tone, (ii) an auditory processing disturbance with or without hearing loss, (iii) oculomotor impairments, especially impairment of upward vertical gaze, and (iv) dysplasia of the enamel of deciduous teeth. Subtle kernicterus or bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction (BIND) refers to individuals with subtle neurodevelopmental disabilities without classical findings of kernicterus that, after careful evaluation and consideration, appear to be due to bilirubin neurotoxicity. Kernicterus can be further classified as auditory predominant or motor predominant and characterized based on the severity of clinical sequelae. Proposed research definitions for kernicterus diagnosis in infants from 3 to 18 months are reviewed, as are treatments of auditory and motor deficits and other complications of bilirubin encephalopathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Damage, Chronic / diagnosis*
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / therapy
  • Developmental Disabilities / physiopathology
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory, Brain Stem / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Kernicterus / diagnosis*
  • Kernicterus / physiopathology
  • Kernicterus / therapy
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging