All You Need to Know about Jaundice


We often hear of newborns who suffer from jaundice. The word “Jaundice” comes from the French word jaune, which means yellow. As the name implies, jaundice is characterized by a yellow tinge to the skin and whites of the eyes. It is important to note that jaundice is not a disease in itself; the yellowish skin normally refers to an underlying condition that needs immediate attention. So, what is Jaundice? Does it affect only newborns? Most importantly, how is it treated? Read on to find the answers to all these questions.

Let us start with jaundice in newborns; normally and luckily enough, it is not a cause for concern. It usually occurs due to the fact that a baby’s liver is not mature enough to handle a substance known as bilirubin, which is the outcome of the breaking of red blood cells. This substance accumulates in the body, causing the yellowish eyes and skin. Usually, newborns who suffer from jaundice are those who are born before their time—premature babies. Some cases of jaundice in newborns do not require treatment by making sure the newborn is getting enough milk during breastfeeding. Other more severe cases need treatment with phototherapy, where blue spectrum light is used to rid the infant’s body of excess bilirubin.

Although jaundice can be easily treated, it should not be neglected as the complications can be severe. Kernicterus is one such severe complication that occurs as excess bilirubin damages the infant’s brain and the nervous system. It is generally advised that newborns should always be checked for jaundice before they leave the hospital.

Adults can suffer from jaundice as well, but for totally different reasons. Some conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, cause excessive destructions of red blood cells and this leads to forming huge amounts of bilirubin that the body cannot handle. A blockage in the bile ducts can also cause a problem in the drainage of bilirubin; this blockage can be caused by gallstones, cancer, etc. Moreover, viruses such as Hepatitis A, B, or C can cause jaundice.

How is jaundice diagnosed? Apart from the yellowish skin and eyes, some of the tests required include a urinalysis and blood tests that measure bilirubin in the blood. Imaging of the liver and the gallbladder, and also HIDA scans are needed to check for blockage in the internal organs affecting bilirubin drainage. To treat jaundice in adults, the doctor will normally treat the underlying condition causing it. So, if anemia is causing jaundice, the prescribed medication would target controlling your anemia levels. If jaundice is caused by a virus, an antiviral medication will be required. If it is caused by blockage in the internal organs, then surgery would be necessary.

The liver is the organ that gets rids of bilirubin, and any excess in that substance shows a problem that is related in one way or another to the liver. So, to protect yourself from jaundice, it is vital to keep the liver healthy, which is not a difficult task. Eating a balanced diet, avoiding toxins such as pesticides and aerosols, avoiding sharing personal hygiene items, and finally getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B, can keep your liver healthy.


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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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