Understanding Jaundice

Jaundice is an often little understood condition that is found in most newborn children. For new parents this can be a scary proposition but can, fortunately, be taken care of quickly and safely. For adults with jaundice, it can simply be scary.

What is Jaundice?

Jaundice is a condition that creates a yellow pigment in a person’s skin, mucous membranes and the white in eyes. Most newborns have at least minor jaundice. The yellow pigment is created by bilirubin. This is a byproduct of dead red blood cells.

The normal human body processes about 1% of its red blood cells every day. These cells are processed in the liver and leave the body through normal waste paths.

When the human liver is unable to process the dead cells fast enough bilirubin begins to accumulate and cause the yellow tint.

Newborn Jaundice

Newborns are recovering from birth. The amount of dead blood cells is simply too much for their undeveloped livers to handle. Bilirubin begins to accumulate quickly.

Depending on how strenuous childbirth was, newborns may face several days with the effects of jaundice. Premature babies are at the highest risk for jaundice.

Not until the baby is eating and stooling frequently will the dead cells be able to exit normally.

Newborn Treatment

The common risk for newborns is that jaundice could lead to liver damage. However, excessive bilirubin can damage developing brain cells, which can permanently damage many of the body’s normal functions.

A bilirubin test is taken through a blood sample to determine the severity of jaundice. Doctors will refer to a bilirubin number. This number determines the severity of bilirubin levels. A level of one-three is normal and the common treatment is ensuring the baby is fully hydrated and spends a few hours a day resting in the sunlight.

A bilirubin level between four and nine will require ultraviolet light treatment. This helps the baby to process the excessive dead cells at an accelerated pace until the bilirubin reaches a normal level. The light treatment will happen in an incubator with a light above. The baby will lay down with just a diaper and protective eye covering.

No matter what the bilirubin level is, keeping the baby fully hydrated is crucial to aid in processing the dead cells. As each day passes in the baby’s young life the impact of jaundice will lessen considerably.

Jaundice can be an indicator of many problems, and is actually helpful to doctors in determining the overall health of the baby.

Adult Jaundice

Adult jaundice could be the sign of serious health issues. The bilirubin in adults is far less harmful than it is for children. It is likely an indication of anything from liver disease, pancreatic cancer, anemia, hepatitis or even malaria.

Excessive consumption of beta-carotene (carrots, for example) can create a yellowish tint in skin. Adults should be careful to make sure the white area of their eyes has not also turned yellow. That means jaundice.

Fortunately, jaundice can be caught and treated before it is able to damage the human body. It is also an indicator for other very serious health risks.

Please contact a doctor for much more information, including in-depth discussion on bilirubin, bilirubin tests, and the causes, effects and treatments of jaundice.


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