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jaundiceWhat is Jaundice?

Jaundice is the yellowing of the eyes, mucous membranes, or skin. This yellowing is caused by a byproduct of old red blood cells in your body, known as bilirubin. Jaundice will usually start by affecting the head before slowly creep down to the chest and arms, and, in some cases, even the legs.

What causes jaundice?

Jaundice is often has three main causes:

  • Liver failure or a liver that has been overworked.
  • Sudden death of red blood cells that occurs at an increasing rate.
  • Failure of the digestive system to process bilirubin.

These causes stem from the body’s processes and reactions. When your body kills or replaces red blood cells, it will cause a byproduct known as bilirubin. This bilirubin will then move to the liver to be processed, and once that is done it then moves to the digestive tract to be turned into stool. If any part of this process is interrupted (i.e. too many red blood cells, liver failure, or digestive failure) then bilirubin can build up in the blood stream, causing yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Infants are often born with jaundice, as their bilirubin levels tend to be high after they are born. Jaundice in newborn infants occurs when a baby is used to having the placenta from the womb remove the bilirubin. When a newborn is disconnected from the placenta, their liver is suddenly forced to take over. This is not a serious condition but instead a sign that the liver is still in the process of adapting to its new surroundings. This adjustment can take time and result in jaundice. However, once the liver has adapted to its new environment, this condition fades.

How is jaundice treated?

Before jaundice can be effectively treated the root cause must be identified; treatments that do not address the underlying condition are typically not effective. The causes previously listed are considered general causes, but more specific conditions could include hepatitis, pregnancy, anemia, or any other condition that affects the liver, blood cells, and digestive system (although the digestive system is typically an unlikely cause).