Identifying symptoms, causes of jaundice in newborns, adults

Dr Fam shares some insights about symptoms and treatment for jaundice, both in newborn babies and adults.

MIRI: When my sister recently gave birth to a baby boy, she was told by her doctor that her baby had to undergo phototherapy to treat jaundice.

I was appalled that many babies with this condition were placed at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of Miri Hospital for observation.

According to Miri Hospital physician Dato Dr Fam Tem Lom, jaundice is a condition signalled by the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.

It is caused by high levels of bilirubin – a yellow pigment produced when old red blood cells break down. Normally, bilirubin passes through the liver and is excreted as bile through the intestines.

“The symptoms of jaundice in newborns normally appear first on the face before moving down to the body, chest, abdomen, arms and legs.

“People often question how come babies nowadays are commonly diagnosed with jaundice, and many of them (babies) have to undergo phototherapy to treat it.

“They even compare by saying that in the old days, babies did not have such a problem. However, what they don’t know is that the Health Department has lowered

the limit (to recommend admittance into the NICU), in order to ensure that the baby’s brain growth would not be affected by jaundice,” Dr Fam told The Borneo Post recently.

“There is also a saying that drinking coconut water is one of the ways to help lower the risk of a baby developing jaundice. I cannot say that this is not true but there are circumstances that contribute to the risk of newborn jaundice that family members, especially the parents, must not overlook.”

Premature births, of which the livers are not fully developed, as well as inherited genetic conditions like the Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase (G6PD) Deficiency are just some of the many causes.

“G6PD deficiency can destroy red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Such a condition could cause severe jaundice and failing to seek treatment could damage the baby’s brain.”

Phototherapy is an effective treatment that uses light to break down bilirubin in a baby’s body.

Apart from phototherapy, which is commonly used to treat mild jaundice, continuously feeding babies with breast milk will help them pass bilirubin through their bodies as well as replenish water loss caused by therapy.

Severe cases may require a blood transfusion where a baby receives a small amount of blood from a donor or through the blood bank to replace the damaged blood cells with healthy red blood cells. It is said to increase the baby’s red blood cell count and reduce bilirubin levels.

Dr Fam emphasised that public education about jaundice is vital as newborn jaundice, if left untreated, could cause brain damage that is similar to a stroke.

“It could affect the baby’s growth and worse, their learning ability,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, jaundice in adults is a condition that usually develops in those between middle age to 60 years old, Dr Fam said.

“Jaundice cases (adults) are most probably caused by an unhealthy lifestyle such as frequent consumption of alcohol that could damage the liver, the bad habit of smoking and unhealthy sexual relationships,” he said.

Long-term consumption of alcohol damages the liver to the extent that it causes the liver to dysfunction.

Similarly, drugs, toxins and herbal products from uncertified sources could also be the culprits, added Dr Fam.

Chronic diseases like liver cancer and blood cancer (leukaemia) are contributing factors to jaundice as well. Other common causes of jaundice are hepatitis and blockage of the bile duct by a gallstone or tumour (cancer).

“Whether it is caused by lifestyle or disease, it is imperative to seek proper diagnosis and treatment to prevent it from getting worse.

“In fact, it is best to properly learn about your body and about your health,” advised Dr Fam.

For mild jaundice, he suggested a change of dietary habits to improve health.

“Consume more high-fibre food, vegetables and also food items that are natural detoxifiers such as ginger, radish, carrot and lemon.

“For those who want to seek options like health supplements, liver tonics that work to clean the liver are also a good choice,” he said.

Source: The Borneo Post

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