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What Causes Jaundice in Toddlers?

author image Matthew Busse
Matthew Busse has pursued professional health and science writing since 2007, writing for national publications including "Science Magazine," "New Scientist" and "The Scientist." Busse holds a doctorate in molecular biology from the University of California-San Diego.
What Causes Jaundice in Toddlers?
Yellow eyes are a sign of jaundice.

Jaundice is a condition characterized by a yellow coloring of the skin and eyes. The yellow color is the result of a substance called bilirubin that is usually found in low levels in the body from the breakdown of red blood cells. Bilirubin is usually cleared from the blood by the liver. If the bilirubin is not quickly removed by the liver, hyperbilirubinemia results, and bilirubin accumulates in the skin and eyes, turning them yellow. Jaundice is very common in newborn babies as the liver adjusts to filtering out bilirubin. However, jaundice occurring in toddlers or older children may be a sign of an underlying disorder.

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In some cases, the body may suddenly start rapidly destroying blood cells, a condition known as hemolysis or hemolytic anemia. The rapid destruction of red blood cells releases high levels of bilirubin into the blood. If the liver cannot process the bilirubin fast enough, it will build up in the body and cause jaundice, explains Keep Kids


Cholestasis is a condition characterized by a decreased flow of bile from the liver to the intestines. After bilirubin is cleared from the blood by the liver, it passes through small ducts to the intestines in a body fluid called bile. Any condition that causes cholestasis and reduces bile flow results in the buildup of bilirubin and jaundice. Cholestasis can be caused by several different conditions, including some types of cancer; infections, such as tuberculosis; chronic conditions, such primary sclerosing cholangitis; certain medications, such as certain antibiotics; or inherited conditions such as biliary artresia.

Inherited Disorders

Several inherited disorders may interfere with the processing of bilirubin by the liver, including Gilbert syndrome, Crigler-Najjar syndrom, Dubin-Johnson syndrom or Rotor syndrome, according to MedlinePlus, a publication of the National Institutes of Health. These conditions may first become apparent during the early years of childhood. Because the liver cannot properly clear bilirubin from the blood, it accumulates in the skin and eyes and causes jaundice.

Autoimmune or Viral Hepatitis

The ability of the liver to clear bilirubin from the blood can also be decreased by either autoimmune or viral hepatitis. In autoimmune hepatitis, the body's own immune cells start attacking the liver, causing inflammation and reduced liver function. In viral hepatitis, a strain of hepatitis virus infects liver and causes inflammation and decreased liver function. In both cases, bilirubin builds up in the body and causes jaundice.

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