A review of 398 neonatal autopsies at Downstate Medical Center revealed 27 cases of kernicterus during the seven-year period from 1971 through 1977. With the current intensive care of the sick newborn, kernicterus continues to occur, mainly in premature infants with relatively low levels of serum bilirubin (mean of 11.5 mg/100 ml). To understand the factors contributing to the development of kernicterus, clinical and pathologic findings in 27 infants with kernicterus were compared to 103 "control" infants retrospectively. Birth weight, gestational age, sex, and Apgar scores were comparable in both groups. The duration of survival was significantly shorter in infants with kernicterus than in the control infants. The clinical signs and symptoms of kernicterus were nonspecific and the premortem diagnosis of kernicterus was not suspected in most of the cases. There were no significant differences in the peak serum bilirubin values, incidence of hypothermia, hypoglycemia, convulsions, anemia, infection, use of phototherapy, transfusion and exchange transfusion in the two groups. Serum albumin values and bilirubin binding capacity measured by 2-(4-hydroxybenzeneazo)benzoic acid were significantly lower in the kernicteric group although the bilirubin-albumin molar ratio was equal in both groups. The incidences of severe acidosis and hypoxic encephalopathy were significantly higher in the kernicteric infants. In this study, acidosis, hypoxia, hypoalbuminemia, and low bilirubin binding capacity were seen more often in kernicteric infants than in control infants. However, analysis of previously suggested risk factors failed to identify any single factor or combination of factors which could be predictive to the development of kernicterus.
- Received February 22, 1980.
- Accepted August 1, 1980.
- Copyright © 1980 by the American Academy of Pediatrics