Neonatal jaundice

Yellow colouring of the skin caused by accumulation of bile pigment, occurring when the liver cannot, or cannot adequately, convert bilirubin into a water-soluble form. This can cause jaundice in full-term babies on the 3rd or 4th day of life, but the condition occurs more rapidly and severely in premature babies, in whom blood bilirubin levels can reach dangerous heights, requiring treatment. The condition can be caused in a number of ways: blood group or rhesus incompatibility, infection, metabolic disorders, blockage of the bile ducts, and so on. In general babies with jaundice are somewhat sleepy and do not feed well. In some the faeces are not coloured, and the child vomits. A serious complication of the rhesus disorder is that the bilirubin can affect the brain, in which case the child groans, shows signs of stiff neck and spasticity, and suffers from convulsions. If the child lives, permanent mental impairment is to be anticipated. The various forms of jaundice can be distinguished by thorough examination, the age at which they occur, and laboratory tests. Any infant suffering from jaundice for more than a few days should be examined by a specialist. Mild forms can be treated by light therapy. In blood group or rhesus incompatibility large quantities of the infant’s blood are replaced by transfusion. In all other cases the basic cause is treated.

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