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When the production of the bile pigment bilirubin is excessive, or the body cannot remove it fast enough, human skin and the eyes become yellow. The condition is known as jaundice and it is often a result of an underlying liver or gallbladder problem. Jaundice can affect newborn babies, especially prematurely born ones, but then it is not associated with liver or gallbladder conditions and it clears up in a few days. The red blood cells of the newborn are different from those in adults, and at the time of birth, baby’s body is removing these cells thus releasing excess bilirubin. After a while, the liver matures and it deals with the extra bilirubin.

Since there is a constant blood flow through the liver, it acts as the chemical processing plant. Bilirubin is the byproduct of hemolysis, the process in which old red blood cells are broken down, and through the bile ducts, bilirubin travels to gallbladder and is then released to the intestine, where it plays the role in food digestion. Since, large amounts of bilirubin are toxic, it needs to leave the body at the rate at which it is produced, and jaundice appears when this process is disrupted. This can happen because of temporary or long-term liver damage, which is then disabled to break down bilirubin, or because of the obstructed gallbladder or its bile ducts, when bilirubin is sent back into the liver and into the bloodstream. Speaking of the reasons, conditions in which red blood cells are destroyed at a rapid rate may also lead to excess bilirubin, which then goes back into the bloodstream.

A person might be infected with viral hepatitis (types A, B, C, D, and E, all of them resulting in liver inflammation). Alcohol, erythromycin, testosterone, oral contraceptives and other medications can cause a medication-induced hepatitis. Gilbert’s syndrome is a harmless hereditary condition responsible for the malfunctioning in the metabolism of bilirubin. Stress, hunger, exercise or infection can provoke the appearance of jaundice in people affected by this syndrome. Jaundice can also be caused by the blockage in the gallstones or a tumor found in the liver, pancreas or gallbladder. During pregnancy, abdominal pressure can close ducts between the gallbladder and the bowel, or those leading from liver to gallbladder.

If a person suspects they have jaundice, they should see a doctor to confirm the diagnosis, because physical exam and a number of blood tests will be performed. The examination may also include ultrasound or biopsy, if the doctor finds it necessary. Since jaundice is not a disease, but an indicator of an underlying medical problem, there is no treatment for it. Instead, examinations are carried out to determine the causes of the condition which are then addressed. The only prevention involves vaccination against hepatitis A and B, and if a person is an alcoholic, seeking treatment for the alcoholic liver disease.

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