Jaundice is a common symptom of liver conditions. What exactly IS jaundice, though?
When someone’s skin, eyes, or other body parts turn yellow as a result of a liver condition, the individual is labeled as “jaundiced.” The condition is caused by a build-up of bilirubin in the body’s tissues. The condition is generally first observable through the eyes. If jaundice persists, it may affect the skin as well.
As its name suggests, bilirubin is a chemical used in the body’s production of bile. As the liver is the organ that produces bile, it makes sense that this condition would be connected with liver problems.
Jaundice is a symptom of dozens of liver conditions. Jaundice may also be a symptom of conditions that do not affect the liver. Due to the many potential causes of jaundice, it is particularly important to visit a doctor as soon as symptoms develop. Some conditions are life-threatening, whereas others are relatively easy to treat.
Causes of Jaundice
- Most causes of jaundice can be placed into one of four broad categories. These categories include:
- Liver cell problems
- Liver bile duct problems
- General bile duct problems (affecting the duct located outside of the liver)
- Red blood cell problems
There are a number of liver cell problems that may cause jaundice. These conditions include cirrhosis, hepatitis, and hereditary liver conditions. These conditions may cause jaundice in different ways. In some diseases, the liver cells cannot sufficiently absorb bilirubin, leaving the chemical to float around in the bloodstream. In other conditions, the bile gets backed up because the bile ducts exiting the liver are clogged. Sometimes the liver cells are simply not creating bilirubin in the right way. Consulting a doctor is the only way to know for certain which condition is affecting you and causing your symptoms.
Sometimes, jaundice is not directly related to a liver condition. In some instances, it is a bile duct problem that is causing jaundice. In bile duct conditions, bilirubin cannot make it into the common bile duct. As a result, the chemical seeps out into the bloodstream, causing jaundice. Conditions that commonly affect the bile ducts include biliary inflammation, gallstones, pancreatic cancer, and gall bladder cancer
Red blood cell conditions can also impact the bilirubin content found in the bloodstream. Conditions such as malaria and sickle cell anemia may therefore result in jaundice, too.
Jaundice in Infants
Many newborn babies develop a condition known as physiological jaundice. This condition is common, and is simply a result of the child’s liver functioning at less than full capacity. This type of jaundice generally develops when the child is 2 or 3 days old, and usually disappears within a week of its appearance. This condition has no additional symptoms and requires no special medical attention.
If a newborn is unwell or has an unusual case of jaundice, it is best to see a doctor about the condition. Some infants are born with serious blood or liver conditions, so it is important to see a doctor to confirm the cause of jaundice.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Jaundice can be diagnosed in a variety of ways. Blood tests, urine samples, ultrasounds, and MRIs are among the most diagnostic tools used in determining the cause of jaundice.
Treatment for jaundice will vary depending on each individual’s diagnosis. Consult your doctor for further information regarding the treatment options that are best for you.