What is jaundice, what is it, what leads to it, how does it start, do you need to be worried?
If we are to trace the origins of jaundice, we would have to start from the blood cells.
There are three major types of blood cells: the red blood cells (RBC also known as erythrocytes), there’s the white blood cells (WBC aka leukocytes), then the platelets (aka thrombocytes).
The red blood cells help carry oxygen through the body which you need to survive, but with everything, “all good things must come to an end”.
The RBC has a lifespan of about 110-120 days for adults, in neonates it is about 60-90 days, in preterm infants, it’s even lower, the lifespan of RBC in preterm infants is about 35-50 days.
When the lifespan of RBCs is “exhausted”, the red blood cells are destroyed. How?
As blood filters through an organ in your body known as the “spleen”, a type of white blood cells known as the “macrophages” act as a detective, it locates old or damaged red blood cells and destroy them.
Once the old or damaged RBCs are destroyed, they move to the liver for processing, but it’s not just that. There’s something that happens when RBCs are broken down.
When RBCs are broken down they release something known as “bilirubin”. Bilirubin is a yellow substance produced when red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, are broken down.
The bilirubin travels through the bloodstream to the liver for processing bringing us to where we were initially.
The liver has one work to do in this situation, what is it? It’s to change the form of the bilirubin so it can be passed out of the body in poo—reason why your poo is somewhat brown.
But there can be a problem:
- If there’s too much bilirubin in the blood. This is known as “hyperbilirubinaemia”. This leads to the second deciding factor.
- If the liver cannot get rid of it—that’s, the excess bilirubin in the blood.
Once the liver can not handle the excessive bilirubin in the blood “jaundice” results.
Simply put, jaundice is caused by too much bilirubin in the blood.
When this happens (jaundice), it results in yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
Now, let’s go to “jaundice in little children” (newborns). Most times, it’s not something to worry about why?
Newborns have a higher number of RBC in the blood, these RBCs are frequently broken down and replaced.
Remember when we talked about the lifespan of RBCs and how it’s shorter in neonates. Again, in newborn, the liver is not fully developed to handle the excess bilirubin in the blood, therefore, jaundice may result.
Usually the jaundice clears up after 2weeks or so, how? Why?
By 2weeks, the newborn’s liver is more developed and better suited at processing and removing bilirubin from the blood.
But there’s is an instance where you can be worried, if the jaundice develops almost immediately after birth, like few hours after birth (within 24hours after birth) then something is wrong, you have every right to be worried.
Call your doctor immediately.
In small cases of jaundice in children,
“Kernicterus” may result, what’s Kernicterus?
Kernicterus is a rare but serious complication of untreated jaundice in babies. It’s caused by excess bilirubin damaging the brain or central nervous system.
When your child has yellowing of the skin (e.g palms of the hand or soles of the feet—it is best to check for jaundice in brown or black skinned people there as their skin tone makes it harder for jaundice to be detected from their skin) and whites of the eyes within 24hours of birth you need to consult your doctor immediately.
Again if you notice jaundice in your child and you notice the following symptoms too:
-a high-pitched cry
-no startle reflex
-brief pauses in breathing
Consult your doctor immediately. These are the earliest signs of kernicterus in children.
Now lets move to the realm of the adults as we are done talking about “neonatal jaundice” (jaundice in children).
When an adult has jaundice it points to one singular thing: there’s problem with the liver.
One of the major things that can cause this problem is “hepatitis” which is the inflammation of the liver cells.
When the liver cells are inflamed by overconsumption of alcohol, abuse/use of certain drugs, viruses, and the like, the liver becomes damaged. When the liver becomes damaged, it won’t be able to remove bilirubin in the blood, when this happens, JAUNDICE results.
Seeing jaundice in an adult shows the liver might be really damaged.
You will need to see your doctor, run a liver function test and know how functional the liver is, and treatment and lifestyle modifications follows so the liver can heal or whatsoever is left of the liver can be preserved.
-If you want to protect your liver? It’s not hard, here:
- Drink responsibly. If you already live with a liver disease, avoid alcohol totally. This is non-negotiable.
- Don’t smoke
- Get hepatitis B vaccine
- Exercise daily
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Add vegetables to your diet
- Stay hydrated. Drink water always. You can never go wrong with water. Drink water early in the morning.
- Do IF (intermittent fasting). It helps the liver a lot.
- Cut off junks as much as you can.
- Cut off added sugar and soda.
- Cut out fruit juice
-How do you prevent jaundice in children and in adults? By taking care of the liver. It’s that simple.
Once the liver is in a good condition, jaundice will rarely result.
-Also consult your healthcare provider about the drugs you take, don’t just take any drug or herbs you see, some may damage your liver.
-Pregnant women are to be even more careful about what they use as it’s not only you that’s at risk, what you do may harm your baby.
When you notice jaundice or in your child, consult your healthcare provider. When handle rightly and quickly, it resolves.