Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and the whites of eyes that happens when the body does not process bilirubin properly. This may be due to a problem in the liver.
It is also known as icterus.
Bilirubin is a yellow-colored waste material that remains in the bloodstream after iron is removed from the blood.
The liver filters waste out from the blood. When bilirubin reaches the liver, other chemicals attach to it. A substance called conjugated bilirubin results.
The liver produces bile, a digestive juice. Conjugated bilirubin enters the bile, then it leaves the body. It is this type of bilirubin that gives feces its brown color.
If there is too much bilirubin, it can leak into the surrounding tissues. This is known as hyperbilirubinemia, and it causes the yellow color in the skin and eyes.
Jaundice most often happens as a result of an underlying disorder that either causes the production of too much bilirubin or prevents the liver from getting rid of it. Both of these result in bilirubin being deposited in tissues.
Underlying conditions that may cause jaundice include:
Rarer conditions that may cause jaundice include:
Accompanying symptoms of jaundice resulting from low bilirubin levels include:
Doctors will most likely use the history of the patient and a physical exam to diagnose jaundice and confirm bilirubin levels. They will pay close attention to the abdomen, feel for tumors, and check the firmness of the liver.
A firm liver indicates cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. A rock-hard liver suggests cancer.
Several tests can confirm jaundice. The first is a liver function test to find out whether or not the liver is functioning properly.
If a doctor cannot find the cause, a doctor may request blood tests to check bilirubin levels and the composition of the blood. These include:
The doctor will examine the structure of the liver if they suspect an obstruction. In these cases, they will use imaging tests, including MRI, CT, and ultrasound scans.
They may also carry out an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). This is a procedure combining endoscopy and X-ray imaging.
A liver biopsy can check for inflammation, cirrhosis, cancer, and fatty liver. This test involves inserting a needle into the liver to obtain a tissue sample. The sample is then examined under a microscope.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.
Jaundice treatment targets the cause rather than the jaundice symptoms.
The following treatments are used:
Jaundice is related to liver function. It is essential that people maintain the health of this vital organ by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and not consuming more than the recommended amounts of alcohol.