Jaundice is a condition in which the whites of the eyes (sclera), skin and mucous membranes become yellow. The colour change is caused by a high level of bilirubin, a yellowish-orange bile pigment. Bile is the fluid secreted by our liver. Bilirubin is produced from the breakdown of red blood cells. Though more common in newborns, adults are also likely to get it, but it usually signals an underlying medical condition related to the liver.

Why Do Adults Get It?

Some of the reasons are:

  • Hepatitis: Mostly, this infection is caused by a virus. It may be short-lived (acute) or chronic. Drugs or autoimmune disorders can cause hepatitis. Over time, this may damage your liver and result in jaundice
    • Chronic hepatitis or inflammation of the liver
    • Acute hepatitis A, B or C
  • Alcohol-related liver disease: If you consume too much alcohol over a long period of time – typically about 8 to 10 years – you could damage your liver. Two diseases, in particular, alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis harm the liver
  • Blocked bile ducts: These are thin tubes which carry bile from the gallbladder and liver to the small intestine. Sometimes, these get blocked by gallstones, cancer, or other rare liver diseases. If they do, you may get jaundice
  • Pancreatic cancer: It can block the bile duct, causing jaundice
  • Certain medicines: Certain drugs have been linked to liver diseases

What are the symptoms of jaundice?

A person may or may not have symptoms of jaundice, sometimes the condition may be found accidentally. When one does experience the symptoms, their severity depends on the underlying causes and how quickly the disease develops.

  • Yellow skin and eye colour
  • Fever and chills
  • Abdominal pain
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Dark-coloured urine and/or clay-coloured stool
  • Itchy skin
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your doctor will suggest taking a bilirubin test, which measures the level of the pigment in your blood, a complete blood count (CBC) and other tests. If you have jaundice, the level of bilirubin will be high. To detect the underlying cause, the doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history, and shall prescribe some more tests, which may include:

  • Tests for Hepatitis
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound
  • Endoscopy
  • Liver/pancreas Biopsy

How Is It Treated?

Usually no treatment is required for jaundice, however, the complications, like itching, may need to be treated if severe. The thrust is on treating the underlying conditions that may have caused jaundice.

  • If acute viral hepatitis is the cause, jaundice will go away on its own over a period of time as the liver starts to heal
  • If a blocked bile duct is to blame, the doctor may recommend surgery