Severe neonatal hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus: are these still problems in the third millennium?

Neonatology. 2011;100(4):354-62. doi: 10.1159/000330055. Epub 2011 Oct 3.


Despite efforts to eliminate permanent and irreversible brain damage due to bilirubin encephalopathy and kernicterus, these conditions continue to accompany us into the third millennium. This phenomenon occurs not only in developing countries with emerging medical systems, but in Westernized countries as well. Comprehensive guidelines to detect newborns with jaundice and treat those in whom hyperbilirubinemia has already developed have been formulated in several countries, but have not been successful in completely eliminating the problem. In this appraisal of the situation we review selected aspects of bilirubin encephalopathy and/or kernicterus. We highlight recent reports of severe hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus, discuss some of the factors responsible for the continuing appearance of these conditions, and briefly review what can be done to decrease bilirubin-related morbidity and mortality to the minimum.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Developing Countries
  • Glucosephosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency
  • Humans
  • Hyperbilirubinemia, Neonatal / epidemiology*
  • Hyperbilirubinemia, Neonatal / prevention & control
  • Hyperbilirubinemia, Neonatal / therapy
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight
  • Kernicterus / diagnosis
  • Kernicterus / epidemiology*
  • Kernicterus / prevention & control
  • Kernicterus / therapy
  • Risk Factors