Understand what jaundice is, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

Jaundice is a medical condition in which too much bilirubin, a pigment produced by the breakdown of haemoglobin from red blood cells, circulates in the blood. This excess of bilirubin causes the yellowish discolouration of the skin, eyes and the mucus membranes (inside of the mouth).

Jaundice (physiological jaundice) is common in newborn babies and will usually clear without treatment. However, in adults, jaundice usually indicates bile duct obstruction and liver damage or inflammation. Treatment depends on the specific cause. If the cause of the jaundice is not treated, liver failure can result.

Jaundice Causes

Jaundice may be caused by:
An obstruction of the bile duct, often due to a tumour or gallstone
Viral hepatitis: an infection of the liver caused by the Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B viruses
A narrowing of the duct that transports bile from the liver to the small intestine
Cirrhosis: a condition in which the liver tissue is damaged and tissue is replaced with scar tissue
Haemolytic anaemia: a condition in which there is an excessive breakdown of haemoglobin
Malaria: a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes

Jaundice Symptoms

Common jaundice symptoms include:
Yellow discolouring of the skin, whites of the eyes (sclera), and mucus membranes
Dark urine
Light-coloured stools (grey or yellow)
Abdominal pain or swelling

Jaundice Diagnosis

Diagnosis of jaundice is based on physical examination and the following tests for adults:
Serum bilirubin test to measure the concentration of bilirubin in the blood
Complete blood count to obtain information about the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets
Prothrombin time test to measure the clotting ability of the person’s blood
Abdominal ultrasound to check the appearance of the liver and detect any other abnormalities, such as tumours or gallstones
Liver biopsy to take small samples from the liver

Jaundice Treatment

Treatment for jaundice depends on its underlying cause. The treatment is then directed at the specific cause, e.g. removal of a gallstone blocking the bile duct.


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