Yellow eyes! Jaundice! That is the most obvious conclusion one draws when the eyes looking back at you in the mirror seem yellow or you hands have a curious yellow tinge that has nothing to do with the turmeric in your food. But did you know that the change in your eyes or skin colour is not the only indication of the condition that essentially suggests a problem in your liver?
Let us try to understand some basic facts about the condition called ‘Jaundice’.
It is a symptom of an underlying problem in your liver that causes the bilirubin level in your blood to go up. Bilirubin is the yellow-orange matter in your bile that is essentially the waste product left behind after iron gets absorbed by blood. Bile produced by the liver helps in carrying this waste along with other harmful chemicals out of the body.
Why does bilirubin build up?
The reasons can be broadly placed under three categories:
- It could be a result of iron-deficiency or anaemia (usually caused by destruction of blood cells before their normal lifespan is over)
- Infections like hepatitis, result of auto-immune conditions, alcoholism, genetic or metabolic defects, effect of some medicines
- Obstructions like gallstones, gall bladder or pancreatic tumour
What causes the yellow colour?
When there is an excess of bilirubin in the blood, it has a tendency to leak out into the surrounding tissues. This condition is called hyperbilirubenimia and it causes the yellow colour in the skin and eyes.
My skin and eyes have not turned yellow but I have been feeling very tired and lost a substantial amount of weight for no apparent reason. Could it be jaundice? If these signs are accompanied with pale stool, dark urine, itchiness, and nausea, it may well be jaundice. It is advisable to consult a hepatologist, who may ask you to run through a battery of tests to diagnose the condition. In fact, itching is a complication of jaundice that can sometimes become so severe that it can result in insomnia and even thoughts of suicide.
Is jaundice cause for major worry?
That depends on the underlying cause. To treat jaundice the doctor needs to diagnose the medical condition that caused it. If the condition is related to anaemia or infection, medications and lifestyle changes are the recommended treatment plan. Obstructive jaundice, however, is likely to require surgical intervention.
Jaundice in newborns is a common health issue that is experienced by almost 60% of the infants and 80 % of premature babies. The reason is the frequent breaking down of the red blood cells in new born babies leading to formation of excess bilirubin. Since livers of newborns are not very well developed, they are often unable to get rid of this excess bilirubin. In most cases the condition will resolve by itself in about two weeks time. However, if the bilirubin levels are very high, the child will need to be treated to avoid risk of brain damage. The doctor may recommend phototherapy or, in rare cases, blood transfusion.
Can I do anything to prevent jaundice?
Since the condition is related to the health of your liver, you can certainly do your bit in preventing its onset by trying to keep your liver healthy. What you choose to eat and drink forms a primary part of this. Foods that are difficult to digest will make your liver work harder, hence it is advisable to avoid large amounts of refined sugar, salt and saturated fats. Toxins like alcohol and some medications can also harm your liver. Including fresh fruits and vegetables in your regular diet will go a long way in keeping you liver healthy. Remember to hydrate yourself well – plain water, not carbonated drinks or juices should be your choice of drink. And regular exercise is the mantra that your liver will respond to as much as the other organs of your body.
It is wise to remember that while jaundice itself may not be a serious or worrying condition, determining the underlying cause is very important. Leaving conditions that cause the affliction untreated can cause serious complications over a period of time and may even become a threat to life.