causes of jaundice

Jaundice, also known as Icterus, is a medical condition characterized by yellow pigmentation of the skin and sclerae, the white part of the eye. Before moving ahead and taking a look at the causes, symptoms and preventive measures of Jaundice in adults and newborn, allow us to enlighten you about a few interesting facts about this condition.

  • Jaundice itself is not a disease. It, in fact, is a symptom of many possible latent illnesses
  • It may indicate a problem with the functionality of the liver, pancreas, red blood cells or gall bladder.
  • It’s basically caused due to an increase in the level of Bilirubin in blood. Bilirubin is a reddish yellow pigment which is typically found in bile. It is a waste product of the normal and daily breakdown of red blood cells in the body. In this process, the hemoglobin molecule that is released into the blood, splits. The heme portion of the hemoglobin converts into Bilirubin after undergoing a chemical conversion.
  • Usually, the liver metabolizes and then excretes the bilirubin in the form of bile. But if there is any kind of disruption in this process of metabolism or production of bilirubin, Jaundice occurs.

Causes of Jaundice in Adults

As mentioned earlier, Jaundice is an indicative medical condition caused by several different types of diseases. It is, hence, important to know these different causes of Jaundice in adults and understand the problems that disturb the bilirubin’s usual metabolism and excretion activity.

Pre-hepatic Case (before bile is made in the liver)

Jaundice in such cases is caused by a rapid increase in the breakdown as well as the destruction of red blood cells (hemolysis). This overpowers liver’s capability to properly metabolize and remove the increased levels of bilirubin from the blood.

Few examples of medical conditions which can lead to an increase in hemolysis are as follows:-

  1. Malaria
  2. Sickle cell disease
  3. Thalassemia
  4. Spherocytosis
  5. Autoimmune disorders
  6. Glucose – 6 Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency (G6PD)
  7. Drugs or other toxins

Hepatic Case (when the problem happens within the liver)

Jaundice in adults that occurs during the hepatic phase is caused by the liver’s inability to metabolize and excrete bilirubin properly. This can result in increased levels of conjugated and/or unconjugated bilirubin in the bloodstream. Conditions with a hepatic case usually include the following:-

  1. Chronic or acute hepatitis
  2. Liver Cancer
  3. Cirrhosis
  4. Drugs or other toxins
  5. Gilbert’s syndrome
  6. Crigler-Najjar syndrome
  7. Autoimmune disorders

Post hepatic Case (after the bile has been made in the liver)

Also known as Obstructive Jaundice in adults, it is caused by conditions that interfere with the normal drainage of conjugated bilirubin in the form of bile into the intestines from the liver. In this case, conjugated bilirubin levels increase in the bloodstream. The conditions that result in post hepatic Jaundice in adults include:

  1. Cancer (Pancreatic Cancer, Gallbladder Cancer and Bile Duct Cancer)
  2. Pancreatitis
  3. Gallstones
  4. Cholangitis
  5. Parasites (like Liver Flukes)
  6. Strictures of the Bile Ducts
  7. Congenital Malformations
  8. Pregnancy
  9. New born Jaundice

Causes of Jaundice in Newborn babies

The condition of Jaundice in newborn babies is quite common as an infant’s liver is not strong/mature enough to remove extra quantities of bilirubin from the body. Though the condition is harmless in most cases, Jaundice in newborn babies, if not treated properly and on-time, can cause damage to the brain and other related parts. This condition usually occurs when the body produces extremely high levels of bilirubin.

Below mentioned are few common causes of Jaundice in newborn babies:

  1. Physiological Jaundice

This is one of the most common causes of Jaundice in newborn babies. It is usually visible on the second or third day of the baby’s birth and is usually known as a harmless and transient phase. The main reason behind the onset of this type of Jaundice is the inability of the immature liver to process bilirubin during the rapid breakdown of red blood cells, which occurs at this early age. The Jaundice eventually disappears as the liver of the baby matures.

  1. Incompatibility of maternal-fetal blood group (Rh, ABO)

This form of Jaundice occurs in case of incompatibility between the different blood types of the mother and the fetus. This condition results in increased levels of bilirubin from the breakdown of the red blood cells of the fetus.

  1. Breast milk Jaundice

Breast milk Jaundice in newborn babies usually takes place at the end of the first week of baby’s birth. The presence of some type of chemicals in the breast milk is responsible for this type of Jaundice. It is usually harmless in nature and resolves spontaneously. Many mothers discontinue breastfeeding during this stage. But, it is recommended that they must continue with breastfeeding as the milk essentials offer strength to the body to fight the disease.

  1. Breastfeeding Jaundice

A breastfed newborn baby can suffer from this form of Jaundice if he/she does not receive adequate breast milk. It may occur because of late or insufficient production of milk by the mother or due to poor feeding. The inadequate intake of the breast milk leads to dehydration and less bowel movement in the baby, with subsequent less bilirubin excretion from the body.

  1. Cephalohematoma (collection of blood beneath the baby’s scalp)

Sometimes, during the birthing process, a baby faces an injury or bruise in the head that results in the accumulation of blood or formation of blood clots under his/her scalp. As this blood breaks down naturally, sudden increase in the levels of bilirubin overpowers the processing power of the immature liver, and hence, Jaundice occurs.

Symptoms of Jaundice

Post understanding the causes of Jaundice in adults and newborn babies, it’s time to throw some light on the signs and symptoms of this condition.

As mentioned above, Jaundice is not a disease, it’s in fact a visible indication of an underlying disease process. Therefore, people suffering from Jaundice witness yellowing of the skin to varying degrees depending on their medical condition. They may also face yellowing of the mucous membranes and the white of the eyes.

Symptoms of Jaundice in adults include:

  1. Pale-coloured stool
  2. Skin itching
  3. Dark-coloured urine
  4. Rectal bleeding
  5. Diarrhea
  6. Vomiting
  7. Nausea
  8. Fever and chills
  9. Loss of appetite
  10. Weight loss
  11. Abdominal pain
  12. Headache
  13. State of confusion
  14. Swelling of legs
  15. Swelling of abdomen owing to accumulation of fluid

If one experiences any one or a combination of the above-mentioned symptoms, it is highly advised that he/she must to go for a preventive test for Jaundice. One can rely on a trusted healthcare brand like Dr Lal PathLabs for the same. To save time and energy, one can also book a test for Jaundice online and furnish a sample to the lab technician at the comfort of his/her home.

Signs and symptoms of jaundice in newborns are as follows:-

  1. Poor feeding
  2. Changes in muscle tone
  3. Lethargy
  4. High-pitched crying
  5. Seizures
  6. Pale stool
  7. Dark, yellow urine
  8. Yellowing of the whites of eyes, inside the mouth, soles of feet and palms of hands

Who does Jaundice affect the most?

Just like the symptoms of Jaundice, the risk factors for developing Jaundice may also vary according to the underlying causes of Jaundice. Some common risk factors are as follows:-

  1. People with hereditary conditions like Thalassemia or hereditary spherocytosis
  2. Individuals who are at an increased risk of suffering a viral infection such as Hepatitis, etc.
  3. Poor hygiene
  4. Drinking contaminated water
  5. Heavy consumption of alcohol
  6. Eating raw or partially cooked shellfish
  7. Having sexual intercourse with a person suffering from viral hepatitis
Jaundice Prevention

Because of lack of awareness, Jaundice cases are rising in India. Having said that, it is not always possible to prevent this condition owing to the wide range of potential causes, few precautionary measures can prevent the risk of this complicated health problem. Below mentioned are some precautionary measures, which if followed, can prevent or minimize the risk of Jaundice in adults and newborns.

Jaundice prevention for adults

  1. Maintain hygiene and sanitation

Proper hygiene and sanitation is the most basic and fundamental step to prevent infectious disease like Jaundice.

  1. Eat warm and fresh foods

Chances of food contamination is very high if the food is not cooked properly or in unhygienic conditions.

  1. Drink clean water

Jaundice can be spread through water and therefore it is advised to drink clean and filtered water.

  1. Lead a healthy life

Excessive consumption of alcohol puts one at a risk of Jaundice. It is therefore imperative to restrict the intake of alcohol. Also, it is suggested to maintain a healthy body weight as high cholesterol may increase the risk of other health problems which in turn may result in Jaundice.

  1. Vaccination

To prevent Jaundice, one must go for hepatitis vaccination. This is more important for people who are travelling to places where the disease is endemic or if the job involves working in a high-risk area like hospitals or medical labs.

Jaundice prevention for newborns

  1. Breastfeeding

The best prevention of Jaundice in newborn babies is adequate breastfeeding. To prevent Jaundice in newborn babies, it is advised to breastfeed the baby immediately after the birth.

  1. Expose the baby to light

Ultraviolet rays react with bilirubin and changes it into a form which does not need to pass through the liver of the baby to be expelled, thereby removing excessive bilirubin from the body and reducing the risk of Jaundice in the baby.

Though Jaundice is not preventable, a healthy lifestyle and proper care can reduce the risk. Therefore, adopt a good and healthy lifestyle and go for a preventive health test to avoid the complications of Jaundice.

Causes and Symptoms of Jaundice in Newborns and Adults
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