When bilirubin levels are elevated, a yellow-brown color can be visible on the skin (1). The jaundice can be indicative of hemolytic, hepatocellular or cholestatic jaundice (1).
Hemolytic jaundice results from red blood cells rupturing excessively and release of hemoglobin (1). It happens when red cell membrane abnormalities such as hemolytic anemia are present (1).
Hepatocellular jaundice is a failur of liver to take up or conjugate bilirubin (1). Damage to liver cells due to infection, tumors, drugs or toxins can be at fault here (1). In newborns it may just be that the liver conjygation enzyme and excretion systems are just not functional yet, and goes away when liver cells mature (1).
Cholestatic jaundice occurs when bile fails to drain from the liver in normal fashion, which interferes with cell's ability to excrete conjugated bilrubin (1). Its cause may be liver cell damage, or, more commonly, bile duct obstruction (1).
1. Nowak TJ, Handford AG. Pathophysiology: Concepts and Applications for Health Professionals. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004, p375-6.