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Causes of Jaundice



Jaundice may be caused by several different disease processes. It is helpful to understand the different causes of jaundice by identifying the problems that disrupt the normal bilirubin metabolism and/or excretion



What Is Jaundice?

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Photo of a newborn being treated with light therapy for jaundice.

Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes, and the whites of the eyes caused by increased amounts of bilirubin in the blood. Jaundice is a sign of an underlying disease process.


Bilirubin is a by-product of the daily natural breakdown and destruction of red blood cells in the body.

The hemoglobin molecule that is released into the blood by this process is split, with the heme portion undergoing a chemical conversion to bilirubin.

Normally, the liver metabolizes and excretes the bilirubin in the form of bile.

However, if there is a disruption in this normal metabolism and/or production of bilirubin, jaundice may result.


What Diseases Cause Jaundice?

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Jaundice may be caused by several different disease processes. It is helpful to understand the different causes of jaundice by identifying the problems that disrupt the normal bilirubin metabolism and/or excretion.


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


Jaundice in these cases is caused by rapid increase in the breakdown and destruction of the red blood cells (hemolysis), overwhelming the liver's ability to adequately remove the increased levels of bilirubin from the blood.


Examples of conditions with increased breakdown of red blood cells include:


malaria,

sickle cell crisis,

spherocytosis,

thalassemia,

glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD),

drugs or other toxins, and

autoimmune disorders.



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