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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Newborn Jaundice

Newborn Jaundice

Alternate Names : Hyperbilirubinemia

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Jaundice is a yellowish discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes. It is caused by too much of a chemical called bilirubin in the blood.

What is going on in the body?

The hemoglobin molecule in a red blood cell carries oxygen to all the cells in the body. Each hemoglobin molecule contains four molecules of iron. The body usually separates and recycles iron from hemoglobin molecules. Bilirubin is a normal chemical by-product of this recycling process. The body does not need bilirubin. Bilirubin travels through the blood to the liver. The liver converts it so that it can be removed in urine. When a child or adult has too much bilirubin in their blood, they become jaundiced.

It takes a few days for a newborn's liver to start processing bilirubin. It may take longer in infants who are born prematurely or who are breast-fed. About 80% of premature infants and 60% of full-term infants will have some visible jaundice. This is a normal condition. It is not harmful and will usually go away without treatment.

There are two main causes for too much unprocessed bilirubin. One cause is that more bilirubin is being made than can be processed. The other cause is that the baby cannot get rid of the processed bilirubin.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

A baby born prematurely is more at risk for jaundice. Infection, not getting enough oxygen during birth, and some medicines may increase the baby's risk of jaundice.

Some common causes of jaundice due to elevated levels of bilirubin include:

  • a baby's blood type that is different from the mother's. For example, the mother has blood type O+, and baby is B+.
  • a collection of blood between the scalp and the skull from pressure on the head during the birthing process. If there is a lot of blood, too much bilirubin can result.
  • an identical twin who gets more blood than the other twin in the uterus. The baby who gets more blood can develop jaundice after it is born.
  • inherited defects of the red blood cell
  • Jaundice from the baby's inability to remove bilirubin can be caused by the following conditions:

  • babies with certain blood infections
  • a blockage or cyst on the baby's bile duct
  • breast-feeding
  • genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome
  • medicines, such as antibiotics
  • thyroid abnormalities


    Next section


    Newborn Jaundice: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: John Wegmann, MD
    Reviewer: Joan McNicholl, PharmD
    Date Reviewed: 07/27/01

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