symptoms of jaundice

When the skin and the whites of the eyes turn into yellow or green, a person is said to be affected by jaundice. Such change of color when associated with itchiness, feces becoming pale and urine becoming dark in color, jaundice is confirmed. Here we attempt to identify the important symptoms of jaundice.

The cause of occurrence of jaundice is due to high level of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a bile pigment formed due to degradation of heme in the hemoglobin.

Bilirubin formation may be conjugated (direct) or unconjugated (indirect). Conjugated bilirubin is confirmed by detecting bilirubin in the urine. Unconjugated bilirubin is due to excess blood cell breakdown, genetic condition or thyroid problems. Newborn jaundice is also due to unconjugated bilirubin.

Liver diseases like cirrhosis or hepatitis, infections, blockage of the bile duct causes high level of conjugated bilirubin.

Excess bilirubin in the blood is the reason for the yellowish tinge of the skin and sclerae (white part of the eyes).

Jaundice affects adults when normal metabolism is affected.

Jaundice in newborn known as neonatal jaundice is a benign condition which can be cured without any after effect.

Types of jaundice

Jaundice is categorized into three main types. They are:

  • Hepatacellular jaundice – due to liver disease or injury
  • Hemophic jaundice –  due to hemolysis( hemolysis is increased breakdown of red blood cells leading to production of increased bilirubin)
  • Obstructive jaundice – due to obstruction of the bile duct which prevents bilirubin from coming out of the liver through excretion.

Sometimes the color of the skin turns into yellow due to excess beta-carotene caused by consumption of large quantities of carrots, pumpkin or melon. Such condition is called pseudo-jaundice and should not be confused with jaundice.

Causes of occurrence of jaundice are many like severe inflammation of the liver or bile duct, obstruction of the bile duct, certain inherited conditions wherein the ability of the enzymes in removing the bile is reduced and cholestia, the disruption of bile flow from the liver, damage caused to the liver due to excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs. In addition, pancreatic cancer which obstructs the bile flow is also a cause for occurrence of jaundice.

Key symptoms of jaundice

Symptoms noticed on occurrence of jaundice are many. They are:

  • Skin or whites of the eyes turning yellow
  • Itchiness known as pruritis
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Abdominal pain which is caused mainly due to blockage of the bile duct
  • Weight loss which is unusual
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abnormally pale stools
  • Dark color of urine

Jaundice can be cured only by treating the symptom and the underlying cause of the symptom that surfaces.

While Fatigue, fever, vomiting, weight loss and anemia may occur in one by one, it is the change of color of skin or whites of the eyes, urine and stools that give definite warning, signaling jaundice.

How to identify cause of jaundice

To identify the cause, blood tests are conducted to ascertain the levels of bilirubin, full blood count and hepatitis A, B and C. No single test is sufficient to identify jaundice and a combination of blood and liver tests must be done to fix the cause and treat appropriately.

After ascertaining the causes each type of jaundice is treated differently. It must be understood that jaundice itself is not treated but only the causes are treated.

If the jaundice is induced by anemia it has to be treated by increasing the iron in the blood either by taking iron supplements or by consuming iron rich foods.

Jaundice due to Hepatitis

If the jaundice is due to hepatitis A, B or C, then it is treated with appropriate antiviral medicines including steroids.

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver and the most common forms are A, B and C.

Hepatitis A is contagious and cause only mild fever and goes off on its own within a short duration of time even without any treatment.

The second, Hepatitis B is due to virus contacted from person to person which infects the liver and must be treated. Once treated it does not recur again for the rest of life of the person treated. The body fights the virus and remove it within a few months and the person is immune to the virus thereafter. But there are instances where the symptoms are short lived but the virus remain the body throughout the life.

Hepatitis C is also of the same virus but in almost 3 out of 4 cases it remains in the body for ever. Hepatitis C risk is higher in persons having multiple sex partners, HIV or rough sex.

If the jaundice has occurred due to obstruction of the bile duct, then it is addressed by performing surgery to remove the obstruction.

If the cause of jaundice is due to some medications already taken, then administration of alternate medicine is the remedy.

Prevention of jaundice is possible by adopting balanced diet habits, consuming only moderate levels of alcohol and exercising regularly, since it is the affected or indifferent functioning of the  liver that cause jaundice.

Ramya Srinivasan, PDGBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. As a result of her passion in native medicine, she got her Diploma in Traditional Siddha Medicine from Bharat Sevak Samaj registered under the Indian Planning Commission. She is certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.