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Difference Between Physiological & Pathological Jaundice

By Kristin A. Ricca ; Updated July 27, 2017

Physiological and pathological jaundice both result in a yellow tint to the skin, whites of the eyes and mucous membranes but are caused by different conditions.

Physiological Jaundice

When jaundice occurs in a healthy baby, it is considered physiological jaundice. Most babies have a degree of jaundice after birth because their liver is unable to process bilirubin.

Pathological Jaundice

Pathological jaundice can occur in children or adults and is the result of jaundice that presents a health risk because of its degree or cause.

Causes

With physiological jaundice, newborns are often unable to process the bilirubin in their system after birth. When high levels of bilirubin accumulate, a yellowing effect can occur.

Underlying causes of pathological jaundice include: blood incompatibilities, blood diseases, genetic syndromes, hepatitis, cirrhosis, bile duct blockage, other liver diseases, infections or medications. In addition, it applies to newborns with jaundice exaggerated by dehydration, prematurity, difficult delivery or other reasons.

Treatment

Physiological jaundice generally clears on its own. However, in more severe cases, phototherapy may be recommended to help break down the bilirubin.

In pathological jaundice, the underlying causes of the jaundice are treated and once corrected, the jaundice will clear.

Warning

If you suspect you or your child has jaundice, contact your doctor to ensure proper testing, diagnosis and treatment.

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