You usually hear about jaundice (yellowing of the skin) when people talk about their newborn babies. However, adults can also get jaundice as well. Jaundice is caused when there is too much bilirubin circulating in the blood. As red blood cells are broken down, the liver works to remove the bilirubin from the blood. Jaundice occurs when there is too much bilirubin being produced and the liver cannot remove it from the blood.
Jaundice in adults occurs with diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Cirrhosis, cancer of the liver, tumors or gallstones. Lab tests are used to determine the serum bilirubin level, complete blood count to check the red and white blood cells, platelets and your prothrombin time to determine your clotting factors. An ultrasound of the liver is used to check for any swelling or abnormalities of the liver. As a symptom of a disease, treatment depends on what is causing the jaundice.
Newborns that have an excessive amount of bilirubin in their blood develop jaundice. Bilirubin is a yellow- red pigment that is released into the babies’ bloodstream when the red blood cells are broken down. When there is too much bilirubin discarded into the bloodstream, it is deposited in nearby tissues for storage. Due to a neonate’s immature liver function to handle processing the bilirubin, the extra red blood cells remain in the tissues causing the skin to take on a yellowish color. The neonate’s skin and sclera turn a yellow color within the first day of life.
Bilirubin lab levels are ordered to determine the severity of the jaundice. Treatment, if necessary, for newborns with hyperbilirubinemia is phototherapy. Blue fluorescent lights or fiberoptic blankets are used to treat the bilirubin level. The infant lies naked under this artificial light, usually in a protected isolette to keep temperature stable with their eyes protected from the light. Side effects include watery diarrhea, increase water loss, skin rash. Increased feeding causes increased peristalsis and more meconium bowel movements, which decreases the bilirubin levels. Severe cases of jaundice are treated with an exchange transfusion where the baby’s blood is replaced with fresh blood.
Newborn jaundice is not harmful, and most babies usually require no treatment. If untreated, high levels of bilirubin can cause brain damage, hearing loss and even death may occur. Careful monitoring of infant within the first few days of life can prevent most complications of jaundice. Adult jaundice can be caused by a variety of benign or life-threatening disorders. Any yellow discoloration of the skin or the white part of your eye indicates a need to visit a physician.
Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001559.htm
American Academy of Pediatrics: http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;114/1/297
American Family Physician: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0115/p299.html
Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003243.htm