Jaundice

Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and the whites of eyes that happens when the body does not process bilirubin properly. This may be due to a problem in the liver.

It is also known as icterus.

Bilirubin is a yellow-colored waste material that remains in the bloodstream after iron is removed from the blood.

The liver filters waste out from the blood. When bilirubin reaches the liver, other chemicals attach to it. A substance called conjugated bilirubin results.

The liver produces bile, a digestive juice. Conjugated bilirubin enters the bile, then it leaves the body. It is this type of bilirubin that gives feces its brown color.

If there is too much bilirubin, it can leak into the surrounding tissues. This is known as hyperbilirubinemia, and it causes the yellow color in the skin and eyes.


Causes

Jaundice most often happens as a result of an underlying disorder that either causes the production of too much bilirubin or prevents the liver from getting rid of it. Both of these result in bilirubin being deposited in tissues.

Some underlying conditions that may cause jaundice are:

  • Acute inflammation of the liver: This may impair the ability of the liver to conjugate and secrete bilirubin, resulting in a buildup.
  • Inflammation of the bile duct: This can prevent the secretion of bile and removal of bilirubin, causing jaundice.
  • Obstruction of the bile duct: This prevents the liver from disposing of bilirubin.
  • Hemolytic anemia: The production of bilirubin increases when large quantities of red blood cells are broken down.
  • Gilbert's syndrome: This is an inherited condition that impairs the ability of enzymes to process the excretion of bile.
  • Cholestasis: This interrupts the flow of bile from the liver. The bile containing conjugated bilirubin remains in the liver instead of being excreted.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of jaundice include:

  • A yellow tinge to the skin and the whites of the eyes, normally starting at the head and spreading down the body
  • Pale stools
  • Dark urine
  • Itchiness

Accompanying symptoms of jaundice resulting from low bilirubin levels include:

  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Pale stools
  • Dark urine