Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, is not a disease itself but a symptom of an underlying disorder. The discoloration occurs when excessive amounts of the body pigment bilirubin accumulate in the bloodstream.
Normally bilirubin -- a natural byproduct of the breakdown of red blood cells in the liver -- mixes with the digestive juice bile and passes harmlessly out of the body through the digestive tract. But if the liver is not functioning properly or the passage of bile is obstructed (perhaps by gallstones), bilirubin backs up into the blood. Jaundice in newborns and very young children, in most cases, is relatively benign. But in older children and adults it can be a sign of a more serious ailment.
A yellowish or greenish tinge to the skin.
Yellowing of the whites of the eyes; this is usually a more reliable sign of jaundice than yellowing of the skin.
In some cases, generalized itching.
More than half of all newborn infants experience what is called physiological jaundice, the consequence of an inexperienced liver suddenly being required to function on its own. In the womb, a fetus's blood passes through the mother's liver, which disposes of any excess bilirubin. After birth, however, the newborn's liver has to handle the job alone, and sometimes it takes time for the new organ to get up to speed. In these cases, the infant is placed periodically under a sun lamp. In rare cases, excessive amounts of bilirubin can damage the child's brain. For this reason, and because it may be a symptom of a serious underlying problem, jaundice should never be ignored.
Premature infants and those with a family history of jaundice stand a slightly higher than normal chance of developing it, as do some breast-fed infants. Physicians can't predict which infants will get jaundice and which will not.
Some cases of jaundice in newborns stem from an incompatibility between the mother's and child's blood types. The mother's immune system attacks blood cells in the fetus, causing the blood cells to break down and resulting in the development of jaundice in the child after birth. Infant jaundice can also come as a result of some other illness or disorder, such as blocked bile ducts, bowel obstructions, hepatitis, mononucleosis, herpes infections or even bruises sustained at birth.
Illness-related jaundice is generally a more serious concern in older children and adults. Frequently the underlying cause in such cases is cirrhosis, caused when liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue. The damaged liver cannot process and dispose of bilirubin effectively, so the pigment backs up into the bloodstream.
Other factors or conditions that can disrupt liver function and lead to jaundice include hepatitis, certain drugs and toxins, pregnancy and congestive heart failure. In some cases, gallstones become lodged in a duct carrying bile from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine. Its path blocked, the bile backs up and seeps into the bloodstream.
Diagnostic and Test Procedures :
You can perform a simple test to check for jaundice in your infant. Using your finger, press gently on the tip of the baby's nose or forehead. If the skin looks white when you pull your finger away, the baby is fine. (This is true regardless of the child's race.) If the spot has a yellowish tinge, the baby is developing jaundice. It's best to perform this test in natural daylight, as artificial light can give the skin a yellow cast. Note: Dark orange or tea-colored urine may indicate jaundice even when the skin appears normal.
If jaundice shows up in school-age children or adults, the doctor may take a blood sample to check for liver damage. The physician may also recommend an examination with ultrasound or X-rays to check for bile duct obstructions.
Generally, the best way to treat jaundice is to correct the underlying cause; the exact remedy, conventional or alternative, will depend on the nature and severity of the case.
Consult Doctor :
If you notice jaundice in your infant; though jaundice in newborns is common, it may indicate a more serious condition.
If you notice jaundice in yourself, in another adult, or in a school-age child; jaundice may be a sign of gallstone-related problems, hepatitis or liver failure, all of which can be serious if left untreated.
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