What Is Jaundice?
Jaundice is a condition that causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to turn yellow. It’s most common in newborn babies.
Jaundice occurs when your body has too much (or can't properly process) bilirubin, a yellow chemical in hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your red blood cells.
When red blood cells break down, your body builds new cells to replace the old ones as they’re processed by the liver.
Bilirubin builds up if the liver can't get rid of the blood cells when they break down.
Why Do Babies Get Jaundice?
Many healthy babies have jaundice, especially those born before full term (38 weeks gestation).
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 60 percent of all newborn babies experience jaundice.
During pregnancy, a mother's liver removes bilirubin from her baby, but once the baby is born, the infant's own liver must do the work.
If the baby's liver isn't developed enough at birth, it may not be able to properly remove bilirubin from the bloodstream.
Jaundice usually goes away on its own after mild treatment.
However, if a severe case of jaundice is left untreated for too long, the baby can get kernicterus, a form of brain damage.
As a result, other complications can occur, including:
- Cerebral palsy
- Hearing loss
- Vision problems
- Teeth issues
- Intellectual disabilities
Jaundice can also occur at any age. While rare, sometimes jaundice can be associated with or caused by an underlying disease or condition, such as:
- Blood diseases
- Genetic syndromes
- Liver diseases, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis
- Blockage of bile ducts
- Medication use
Your baby will most likely be tested for jaundice several times before you leave the hospital, so you shouldn't have to rely on visual symptoms.
In addition to the whites of the eyes looking yellow, skin symptoms of jaundice (usually yellowish skin in lighter-skinned babies) tend to be noticeable first on the face.
As bilirubin levels rise, the condition will often become noticeable on the chest, belly, arms, and legs.
Treatment for jaundice in babies can occur at home or in the hospital, and requires that your unclothed baby be placed under special lights (phototherapy).
Your doctor may also recommend that your baby drink more breast milk.
If your baby has very high bilirubin levels, your doctor may recommend a blood exchange transfusion.
Video: Pediatrics & Child Health Care : Signs of Jaundice in Newborn
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