Inside our bodies we have several organs, all with important jobs to do. The liver is an organ that is responsible for eliminating toxins and waste products from our blood. It is also responsible for producing and secreting bile into the digestive tract to help digest our dietary fats.
One of the toxins that the liver is responsible for eliminating is bilirubin. Bilirubin comes from our red blood cells. The red blood cells inside our bodies get old and when they are destroyed hemoglobin is released. Hemoglobin is the chemical in our red blood cells that contains iron and carries oxygen. When the cells get old, the iron is removed and what is left over from the hemoglobin is called bilirubin.
Jaundice can occur for three reasons. The first reason is when there is too much bilirubin being produced by the body and the liver can not remove it all efficiently. Second, there could be a defect in the liver. This can prevent the liver from being able to remove the bilirubin from the blood. This can prevent the bilirubin from being secreted into the bile. Lastly, there could be a blockage of the bile ducts. This would cause the flow of bile and bilirubin to be drastically decreased and the bilirubin would get trapped inside the liver.
You may have heard of newborn babies with jaundice. This is quite normal and occurs in most babies However, the severity and the duration may vary quite a bit from baby to baby. Newborn jaundice occurs because the hemoglobin in a fetus is different than those babies outside the womb. When a baby is born his or her body goes through a transition period in which the hemoglobin types change. This can cause a yellow tint to the skin and can take a few weeks before the levels are where they are supposed to be. A doctor should monitor the levels of bilirubin in a newborn in order to make sure they do not rise too high. If the jaundice does not clear after a few weeks there could be something more serious going on inside the liver.
Jaundice can also be caused by different medical conditions consisting of hemolysis, ineffective erythropoiesis, hematomas, acute viral hepatitis, alcoholic hepatitis, acetaminophen-induced liver toxicity, cirrhosis, cancer of the liver, bile duct blockages, pancreatic cancers, gallstones, pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, genetic disorders, abnormalities in bile ducts, and more.
Most of the time jaundice is recognized by a yellowing of the skin and in the whites of the eyes. Also in bowel movements may appear light in color since bilirubin is responsible for making stools dark. Urine may become dark or brownish is color from bilirubin being excreted from the body through the urine. One of the most serious side effects of jaundice is severe itching. The itching can become so severe that a person may not be able to control themselves from scratching.
Once jaundice is diagnosed it is important to determine the under-lying cause of the problem. Sometimes the cause is already known and jaundice appears later as a side effect. Treating the jaundice may be simple in some cases or difficult depending on the cause. Jaundice will only go away once the original condition is treated.
If you notice symptoms of jaundice and have not been diagnosed with an under-lying medical condition then it is crucial to seek medical attention right away. There can be something very serious causing your jaundice and you may need medical treatment in a timely fashion. If you have a baby or child with signs of jaundice that are not already being treated by a pediatrician, then go to the doctor as soon as possible to determine what is causing the symptoms.
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