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What causes hyperbilirubinemia?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Hyperbilirubinemia is a result of an elevated level of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a by-product of the normal process of red blood cell RBC) breakdown. During intrauterine life, the placenta removes bilirubin from the fetal system. At the moment of birth the liver has to take over this process. In addition the fetal red blood cells are being replaced by adult-type red blood cells, leading to an increased rate of RBC breakdown. It is the combination of these two physiologic events that result in physiologic jaundice.

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