What is Jaundice?

Jaundice also known as icterus comes from the French word jaune, which means yellow and causes yellow color in the skin, the mucous membranes, or the eyes. The yellow pigment is from bilirubin, a byproduct of old red blood cells. Jaundice in the infant appears first in the face and upper body and progresses downward toward the toes. Premature infants are more likely to develop jaundice than full-term babies.

Normally bilirubin passes through the liver and is excreted as bile through the intestines . Jaundice occurs when bilirubin builds up faster than a newborn’s liver can break it down and pass it from the body.

What are the causes of Jaundice?

When red blood cells die, the heme in their hemoglobin is converted to bilirubin in the spleen. The bilirubin is processed by the liver, enters bile and is eventually excreted through feces. Once hemoglobin is in the red cells of the blood, it circulates for the life span of those cells. The hemoglobin that is released when the cells die is turned into bilirubin. If for any reason the RBCs die at a faster rate than usual, bilirubin can accumulate in the blood and cause jaundice.

There are three different classes of causes for jaundice. Pre-hepatic or hemolytic causes, where too many red blood cells are broken down, hepatic causes where the processing of bilirubin in the liver does not function correctly, and post-hepatic or extrahepatic causes, where the removal of bile is disturbed.

Some other causes of jaundice are-

  • Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  • Cirrhosis Of The Liver.
  • Gallstones.
  • Gilbert Syndrome.
  • Hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis C.
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
  • Kernicterus.
  • Liver Cancer.
  • Pancreatic Cancer.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Primary Biliary Cirrhosis.
  • Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC).
  • Sickle Cell Disease (Sickle Cell Anemia).
  • Viral Hepatitis.

What are the symptoms of Jaundice?

Some common symptoms of jaundice are described below-

  • Yellow skin.
  • Yellow eyes.
  • Dark or reddish urine.
  • Orange urine.
  • Red urine.
  • Bronze skin.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Bitter taste in mouth.
  • Furry tongue.
  • Pale feces.
  • Foul-smelling feces.
  • Nausea.
  • Itching skin.
  • Lethargy.
  • Slow pulse.
  • Confusion.

What is the treatment done for Jaundice?

Most cases of newborn jaundice resolve without medical treatment within two to three weeks, but should be checked by the health care provider. It is important that the infant is feeding regularly and having normal bowel movements. If bilirubin levels are extremely high, the infant may be treated with photo therapy–exposure of the baby’s skin to fluorescent light.

The bilirubin in the baby’s skin absorbs the light and is changed to a substance that can be excreted in the urine. This treatment can be done in the hospital and is often done at home with special lights which parents can rent for the treatment.

Treatment may be needed for several days before bilirubin levels in the blood return to normal. The baby’s eyes are shielded to prevent the optic nerves from absorbing too much light. Another type of treatment uses a special fiber optic blanket. There is no need to shield the baby’s eyes with this treatment, and it can be done at home. In rare cases, where bilirubin levels are extremely high, the baby may need to receive a blood transfusion.