Jaundice: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

Jaundice is a term used to describe a yellowish tinge to the skin and the whites of the eye. Body fluids may also be yellow.

The color of the skin and whites of the eyes will vary depending on levels of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a waste material found in the blood. Moderate levels lead to a yellow color, while very high levels will appear brown.

About 60 percent of all infants born in the United States have jaundice. However, jaundice can happen to people of all ages and is normally the result of an underlying condition. Jaundice normally indicates a problem with the liver or bile duct.

In this article, Medical News Today will discuss what jaundice is, why it happens, and how it is diagnosed and treated.

Fast facts on jaundice

Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin, a waste material, in the blood.

An inflamed liver or obstructed bile duct can lead to jaundice, as well as other underlying conditions.

Symptoms include a yellow tinge to the skin and whites of the eyes, dark urine, and itchiness.

Diagnosis of jaundice can involve a range of tests.

Jaundice is treated by managing the underlying cause.

Causes

Man with jaundice <br>Image credit: Doc James, 2008</br>
A problem in the liver may cause jaundice.
Image credit: Doc James, 2008

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.

Risk factors

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:

Acute inflammation of the liver: This may impair the ability of the liver to conjugate and secrete bilirubin, resulting in a buildup.

Inflammation of the bile duct: This can prevent the secretion of bile and removal of bilirubin, causing jaundice.

Obstruction of the bile duct: This prevents the liver from disposing of bilirubin.

Hemolytic anemia: The production of bilirubin increases when large quantities of red blood cells are broken down.

Gilbert’s syndrome: This is an inherited condition that impairs the ability of enzymes to process the excretion of bile.

Cholestasis: This interrupts the flow of bile from the liver. The bile containing conjugated bilirubin remains in the liver instead of being excreted.

Rarer conditions that may cause jaundice include:

Crigler-Najjar syndrome: This is an inherited condition that impairs the specific enzyme responsible for processing bilirubin.

Dubin-Johnson syndrome: This is an inherited form of chronic jaundice that prevents conjugated bilirubin from being secreted from of the cells of the liver.

Pseudojaundice: This is a harmless form of jaundice. The yellowing of the skin results from an excess of beta-carotene, not from an excess of bilirubin. Pseudojaundice usually arises from eating large quantities of carrot, pumpkin, or melon.

Treatment

Medication
Medication or supplements can help jaundice depending on the cause.

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

Jaundice treatment targets the cause rather than the jaundice symptoms.

The following treatments are used:

Anemia-induced jaundice may be treated by boosting the amount of iron in the blood by either taking iron supplements or eating more iron-rich foods. Iron supplements are available for purchase online.

Hepatitis-induced jaundice requires antiviral or steroid medications.

Doctors can treat obstruction-induced jaundice by surgically removing the obstruction.

If the jaundice has been caused by use of a medication, treatment for involves changing to an alternative medication.

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Prevention

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.

Symptoms

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