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Jaundice in Babies and Children

Jaundice is one of the most common conditions that affects new-born babies mostly in their first few days or weeks after birth, but it can also affect older children and adults. It may look like a serious condition but most of the times it’s fairly harmless. The condition is liver-related and causes yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the skin, in addition to other symptoms that may not be quite obvious. Most cases usually clear up without any form treatment.

Jaundice usually occurs as a result of build-up of a yellow substance known as bilirubin in the bloodstream. This substance is processed in the liver and mixed into bile. When the levels of this bilirubin change and are unable to be properly removed from the body, then the overload occurs.

When it comes to children, jaundice may be a sign of health complications, hence it requires immediate treatment.

Types of Jaundice in Babies and Children

There are different types of jaundice in babies and children. In new-borns, the condition presents itself when the baby’s liver has not fully developed which means it’s not capable of properly processing bilirubin and excreting it therefore leading to a build-up that causes jaundice.

Other types of jaundice include:

  1. Haemolytic jaundice: This occurs when the breakdown of the red blood cells is abnormal, leading to build-up of bilirubin in the blood.
  2. Obstructive jaundice: Happens when there is a blockage in the bile duct.
  3. Hepatocellular jaundice: Occurs when there is damage to the liver, or if it has been affected by a disorder.

Common Causes of Jaundice in Babies and Children

In addition to the inability of the liver to fully process bilirubin in new-borns leading to jaundice, there are other common causes of jaundice in babies and children. These include:

  • Blood cell disease such as sickle cell anaemia
  • Viruses like the Epstein Barr virus
  • Hepatitis, which causes the inflammation of the liver
  • Cancer of the liver or pancreas. However, these are rare in children
  • Gallstones, which occurs when the gallbladder doesn’t process the bile juice
  • Infection of the blood like sepsis
  • Mismatch of the blood type between mother and baby

Symptoms of Jaundice in Babies and Children

The common symptoms of jaundice in babies and children includes:

  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This is the most obvious symptom of the condition.
  • Pale stools
  • Darkened urine

Diagnosis of Jaundice in Babies and Children

Usually, jaundice is diagnosed through a physical examination of the child by looking at the obvious symptoms which include the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. But to know the amount of bilirubin present, the paediatrician will order a test of the child’s blood and urine. This will also reveal if there are any liver or blood problems present or any other viral infections which may have led to the jaundice.

The child’s skin may also be tested to measure the levels of bilirubin. This is done using a special light.

Treatment Options for Jaundice in Babies and Children

The treatment of jaundice is determined after a definite diagnosis of the cause. In most instances where new-born babies have jaundice, it usually goes away by itself within two weeks. In some instances, the baby may need a form of treatment known as phototherapy whereby a special blue light is shone on the skin. This light causes the bilirubin to leave the baby’s body through urine.

On instances where the high levels of bilirubin are caused by a certain condition or disease, then the treatment option will be decided upon the full diagnosis of the specific disease.

Next Step

At King’s College Hospital; our paediatric liver specialists are UK board certified and come with decades of experience. While here, we will ensure that your child receives the best possible care. Contact us to find out more about our paediatric hepatology services or to arrange an appointment.