Jaundice is a term used to describe an increase in the amount of bilirubin in the body, which results in the whites of the eye, skin and body fluids all turning yellow. When all is functioning properly, bilirubin, a byproduct of old red blood cells, is processed by the liver, excreted in bile and ultimately transformed into waste. When the liver cannot handle the volume of retiring red blood cells, yellow pigment will build up in the body. Doctors usually categorize jaundice into three different types; each results in yellowing pigmentation but for different reasons.
Physiologic jaundice is common in newborns whose livers have not fully developed the ability to process bilirubin. This period of jaundice usually resolves itself within two to three days, but the infant is carefully monitored during his hospital stay to ensure the liver is functioning properly prior to being discharged. According Medline Plus website, bilirubin tends to accumulate more easily in the first days of a newborn's life, before babies are able to produce proper stools or bowel movements.
A type of exaggerated physiologic jaundice is referred to as "breastfeeding jaundice," which usually appears during the first week of a newborn's life. According to Medline Plus, breastfeeding jaundice is believed to be a result of inadequate breast milk intake, leading to dehydration or low caloric intake. Breastfeeding jaundice usually peaks during an infant's second or third week of life, and providing the infant is ingesting sufficient calories usually resolves itself without causing any medical problems. Breastfeeding jaundice should be monitored by a pediatrician.
Pathologic jaundice can occur in children and adults and is diagnosed when jaundice presents a health risk. In infants, pathologic jaundice can occur when what starts as physiologic jaundice becomes exacerbated by dehydration or a premature or complicated birth. In adults, there are several causes of pathological jaundice, according to Peoples-Health.com, including blood incompatibilities and diseases, and hereditary syndromes. Several forms of hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver and other liver diseases, bile duct blockage, along with infections and medications, can also cause pathological jaundice.
Gilbert's syndrome is a harmless hereditary condition that results in mild jaundice. During times of illness or stress, people with Gilbert's syndrome will experience low levels of some bilirubin-processing enzymes in their livers, according to LabTestsOnline.com. Once diagnosed, Gilbert's syndrome does not require further medical treatment.