Healthy Living

What Causes Jaundice?


What Causes Jaundice?

Jaundice is triggered by excessive bilirubin levels in the blood. This is sometimes referred to as hyperbilirubinaemia. An abnormal level of bilirubin in the bloodstream and body tissues causes a yellowish discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes and sclera.

Bilirubin is a yellowish substance generated when the body’s red blood cells are broken down. Bilirubin travels through the bloodstream and finally to the liver. Consequently, the liver processes the bilirubin so that it can be removed from the body as a waste product. Nevertheless, if the level of bilirubin is excessive in the blood or liver, jaundice might develop.

Jaundice in Newborns

Jaundice is a very common condition among babies with high amounts of red blood cells. Since the liver of newborns isn’t fully developed yet, it tends to be less efficient in processing the bilirubin and eliminating it from the blood. This implies that the level of bilirubin in newborns is almost twice that of adults. When they’re about two weeks old, babies produce liberal amounts of bilirubin. Their liver is now more efficient in eliminating bilirubin from the body. Jaundice often corrects itself at this point without necessarily causing any damage.


Breastfeeding your young one can greatly increase his/her possibility of developing jaundice. Nonetheless, it’s not advisable to stop breastfeeding since the jaundice symptoms often disappear within a few weeks. The advantages of breastfeeding outweigh all the potential risks linked to this condition.

If your child needs jaundice treatments, he/she might need additional fluids and more regular feeds during the treatment process. The main reason why breastfed infants are more susceptible to jaundice is quite unclear, although several related theories have been proposed. For instance, it might be that breast milk is composed of substances that suppress the liver’s capability to process bilirubin. Newborn jaundice that is believed to be connected to breastfeeding is at times described as breast milk jaundice.

Underlying Health Conditions

For some cases, jaundice might be a result of a different health problem. This is referred to as pathological jaundice. Some possible causes of pathological jaundice are:

  • Blood group incompatibility: this refers to a situation where both the mother and the baby have distinct blood types that get mixed during pregnancy or at birth. 
  • Presence of a urinary tract infection (UTI): it is an infection affecting the structures that urine passes through before being expelled from the body.
  • Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland): it’s a condition where the patient’s thyroid gland doesn’t release enough hormones.
  • A blockage of the gallbladder or bile ducts: these organs are responsible for the creation and transportation of bile, which is an important fluid utilized in the digestion of fatty foods.
  • Rhesus (Rh) factor disorders: It is a disease that occurs when the baby’s mother has Rhesus (Rh) negative blood while the child has Rhesus (Rh) positive blood.
  • Crigler-Najjar Syndrome (CNS): This is an inherited disorder that interferes with the enzymes' dependability in the processing of bilirubin.

If you have got a family history of such underlying conditions, let your doctor know so that the signs and symptoms of your baby’s jaundice are keenly monitored.

Other Possible Causes

An underlying disease might be the cause of jaundice. For such cases, jaundice often manifests much earlier than physiological jaundice. Disorders that can trigger the development of jaundice include:

• An enzyme deficiency
• Hemorrhage or internal bleeding
• Liver malfunction
• Certain bacterial or viral infections
• Blood infections sometimes referred to as sepsis
• Incompatibility between the infant’s and mother’s blood
• An abnormality in the baby’s blood

If your baby has symptoms relating to those associated with jaundice, be quick to consult a medical specialist.