What is Jaundice?
Jaundice is a medical condition leading to yellowish discoloration of skin and eyes. Jaundice is not a disease, but a symptom of many underlying diseases. The word Jaundice has a French origin and is derived from the word “Jaunisse” meaning yellowness. The yellowish discoloration is brought about by excess Bilirubin in body. Jaundice is also known as icterus.
What is Bilirubin?
Bilirubin is a substance that is naturally formed in the liver when old red blood cells are broken down. It is a waste product and the liver functions to eliminate this waste from the body. Bilirubin is yellow in color and it is this that gives stool its usual color. Bilirubin is present in two important forms in body:
- Indirect or Unconjugated Bilirubin: Bilirubin in this form flows freely in blood. It is insoluble and flows through the bloodstream and reaches the liver. When in liver, the bilirubin is changed into soluble form.
- Direct or Conjugated Bilirubin: Bilirubin in this form is formed by the liver and is totally soluble in water. Direct bilirubin is derived from indirect bilirubin. Direct bilirubin is latched with other chemicals in liver and is secreted in bile that excretes it from body.
Liver functions to remove Bilirubin from the body, along with waste materials. However, when the body fails to remove this excess Bilirubin (a condition known as hyperbilirubinemia), it spreads to other nearby tissues and thus gives the yellowish tinge.
Is liver dysfunction the only cause of jaundice?
As excretion of Bilirubin is carried out by liver, a malfunctioning liver has to be one of the primary reasons behind excess bilirubin in body; leading to yellowness of skin or what is known as Jaundice. However, besides this, there are number of other factors that may result in wrong retention of bilirubin in blood, leading to jaundice.
Following are some of the causes of Jaundice:
- Liver inflammation: As already mentioned, impaired liver cannot conjugate bilirubin and thus cannot excrete it from body, causing jaundice.
- Bile duct obstruction or inflammation: Bile is a digestive juice secreted by liver and functions to remove bilirubin from body. It is produced by liver and stored in gallbladder. Bile from gallbladder is carried to the small intestine by bile duct. Any obstruction of this duct hampers bile juice release in small intestine and thus excess bilirubin is retained in body.
- Hemolytic anemia: Hemolytic anemia is a medical condition where red blood cells die at a faster rate as compared to their production in bone marrow. The abrupt increase in the number of dead red blood cells produces excess bilirubin; so much that the liver faces a tough time excreting bilirubin from the body. Thus, body has excess bilirubin content causing jaundice.
- Pseudojaundice: A comparatively harmless condition where yellowish discoloration is not due to bilirubin, but beta carotene obtained from excess consumption of carrots and melons.
- Gilbert's Syndrome: A genetic condition where a person is born with malfunctioning enzymes that do not process bile excretion in a normal metabolic manner.
- Crigler Najjar Syndrome: A condition where enzyme specific to bilirubin processing is impaired and thus, billirubin does not excrete from body.
- Dubin Johnson Syndrome: An inherited condition where conjugated bilirubin does not excrete from liver.
What do you mean by infant jaundice?
Infant jaundice is a very common scenario affecting most babies born prior to completion of pregnancy span. Babies born before 38 weeks, completion and those that are breast feeding, show jaundice symptoms very commonly.
However, this is not something to be worried about as it does not suggest that your baby is born with a weak liver. Every new born baby has a small liver that is not yet functional to remove bilirubin being produced. As the baby grows, the organs become stronger and function normally.
Infant jaundice often subsides normally without any medication as such. However, sometimes medication can also be prescribed by your pediatrician. Rarest cases of complications may arise where excess bilirubin in a baby may lead to brain damage.
What causes infant jaundice?
Following are some of the possible reasons leading to jaundice:
- An underdeveloped liver. Very common and mostly not a reason to worry about.
- Some form of internal bleeding
- Blood infection of the infant
- Enzyme malfunction or deficiency
- Abnormal red blood cells that break down more than usual
- Mother's blood is not compatible with her baby. This causes the baby to receive antibodies from mother that trigger break down of RBCs.
- Any other bacterial or viral infection
- A baby who is not being sufficiently breastfed may develop jaundice
Not showing yellowish tinge. Can I still have Jaundice?
Yellowish discoloration is a vivid symptom of jaundice. However, many a times some people may show delayed discoloration; even when suffering from jaundice. Therefore, knowing other related symptoms of Jaundice is equally essential.
Following are common symptoms of Jaundice:
- Yellowish tinge of skin and eyes
- Severe abdominal pain
- Discolored urine and stool. Urine appears darker than usual and stool seems lighter than regular
- High fever and vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feeling of extreme weakness and fatigue
What are the different types of Jaundice?
Based on the factors leading to excess bilirubin in body, Jaundice has been categorized into following types:
- Hepatocellular Jaundice: This type of Jaundice is caused due to malfunctioning liver.
- Hemolytic Jaundice: Jaundice that arises due to excess break down of red blood cells
- Obstructive Jaundice: Jaundice that arises due to obstructed bile duct
What are the laboratory tests available for Jaundice?
Following are the common diagnostic tests to determine Jaundice:
- Liver Function Test – To determine how well your liver is functioning. If this test is sufficient to confirm jaundice, no other tests are needed. However, if the doctor feels the need of some other blood tests, you may be ordered for the following tests.
- Bilirubin Test – To determine the exact amount of bilirubin in your blood. Ratios of indirect and direct bilirubin are tested to find what type of jaundice are you suffering from.
- CBC Test – To determine count of RBCs to confirm if you are suffering from Hemolytic Jaundice.
- Hepatitis A, B and C tests are also prescribed
- Imaging tests are ordered to detect obstructions of any form
Where can I have all these tests done?
All the above mentioned tests are available with different diagnostic centers at affordable prices. Get the list of nearest diagnostic center in your city here, according to your requirements.
Is treating jaundice very difficult?
No. Jaundice treatments are easily administered depending on the causative reason behind. Following are the treatment options for jaundice:
- Hemolytic Jaundice is treated with iron medication. Including iron rich food in diet is also effective.
- Steroid medications also prove effective in treating jaundice.
- Bile obstructions can only be treated with surgical remedies. However, this is comparatively rarer to happen.
Can jaundice prove fatal in adults?
Jaundice is not usually fatal. However, adults who suffer from severe liver troubles develop chronic jaundice and may prove life threatening. Elderly people suffering from jaundice need to be given extra attention. Hospitalization is usually suggested.
People in the habit of excessive alcohol consumption, damage their liver to an extent where it becomes irreversible and sooner or later develop fatal jaundice.
Green stool in infants under jaundice treatment. Is something serious?
No. This is something very common and has no reasons to worry. Infant jaundice usually does not need medication and it disappears within a week or two. However, if your baby has been ordered a jaundice treatment, green stool is a common scenario to witness.
Doctors use phototherapy to treat jaundice in infants. Your baby is put under a light source and the skin and blood absorbs light waves. This light helps the infant's body to change bilirubin into waste that can get eliminated easily.
Post treatment, frequent bowel movements with greenish stool indicates that the body is capable of eliminating the excess bilirubin and thus treating jaundice.
What is the ideal diet for jaundice patients?
Mentioned here is a suggested diet for jaundice patients. However, always know that your doctor would be the best person to guide you during your treatment phase. Discuss with your doctor before making any substantial change in your diet:
- Fluids such as water and juice should be a core part of your diet. For the first few days, this is what you will need to have.
- Fruits filled with fresh juice
- Green vegetables such as spinach
- Vegetable soup is also good for your health and equally filling
- Lemon juice with warm water proves an effective home remedy
- Whole wheat
- No fats, fried or spicy food need to be taken
How long does it take to recover from jaundice?
It usually takes around 1 – 2 months to completely recover from jaundice. However, with the end of 3rd week or so, you can get back to your normal work life as the associated weakness, pain and itching will disappear now. However, stick to the diet you are already following, as the liver is still not in its best forms.
How can you prevent jaundice?
Adopting the below mentioned steps can help prevent jaundice to a large extent:
- Restricted alcohol consumption: Alcohol greatly damages your liver and an affected liver definitely leads to jaundice. Therefore, restricting alcohol consumption is mandatory to prevent adult jaundice.
- Controlling body weight: Obesity can be detrimental to your health and may certainly impair your liver function.
- Wholesome diet: A diet rich in essential nutrients, maintains an overall healthy physical and mental state. Normal and healthy enzyme functions are assured with a healthy diet.
- Exercising: Regular exercises also add to your overall health status.