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Jaundice: Symptoms, Treatment, Causes And Types

By Dr. Nikita Toshi +2 more

Jaundice is a medical condition which forces your skin and the white region in your eye to turn yellow. A large chunk of the population is affected by Jaundice in India on a yearly basis. Jaundice is extremely dangerous when it occurs in children, referred to as neonatal jaundice, this condition has caused the death of many infants over the years. There are no vaccines that can prevent the occurrence of jaundice, and children are more prone to getting affected by jaundice than adults.

jaundice symptoms

Most medical practitioners believe that jaundice in itself is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying condition that is force stopping the normal functioning of the metabolic functions of the body. The effects of Jaundice can range from minor complication to eventual death if left untreated. There are many available treatment methods for curing jaundice which we will be discussing in detail in this article. We will also discuss the various symptoms, causes and types of jaundice as we proceed.

Studies have demonstrated jaundice ia a medical condition characterized by the yellowing of the skin and eyes, often resulting from liver dysfunction, hepatitis, or bile duct blockage. Common symptoms include yellow discolouration, fatigue, and dark-coloured urine. Management varies based on the underlying cause and may involve managing the root cause including lifestyle adjustments or surgical procedures as necessary. Jaundice can be categorized into different types, such as obstructive, hemolytic, or hepatocellular, each associated with distinct causes and therapeutic approaches. Early diagnosis and tailored management plans are vital for effectively addressing jaundice and its related complications.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

What is Jaundice?

Jaundice is a medical condition that causes a yellowish or greenish discolouration to the skin and the white space of the eye. This happens due to the excessive presence of bilirubin in your bloodstream. Bilirubin is a part of your normal blood composition and deals with haemoglobin. Usually when the life cycle of a cell lasting 120 days ends the cells are broken down and bilirubin from the bloodstream gets passed on to the bile ducts present in the liver where it’s processed and passed on to the small intestine to excrete through urine or motion.

Jaundice is also called icterus in some parts of the world. The condition is mostly the effect of some sort of malfunction pertaining to the liver or the bile ducts causing a problem in the removal of bilirubin from the bloodstream. When bilirubin builds up in your bloodstream the yellow pigmentation of the same starts showing in your skin and eyes.

When neonatal jaundice occurs in babies it can cause long-lasting effects such as brain damage due to excess bilirubin in the blood. In adults, if jaundice is left untreated it can lead to severe conditions such as Kernicterus which is non-reversible damage that happens to the brain cells due to the accumulation of bilirubin in unwanted spaces such as the grey matter in the brain and the central nervous system.

It can be conclusively told that Jaundice is an aftereffect of the liver not being able to function in its full capacity. There might be varying reasons for it, all of them can be considered as potential causes for Jaundice. There are various diagnostic methods that doctors implement to find the source cause behind jaundice and treat it to remove the problem of jaundice by reducing the amount of bilirubin before it reaches fatal levels.

In my knowledge, jaundice is a condition marked by yellowing of the skin and eyes due to excess bilirubin in the blood. It stems from various causes like liver disease or hepatitis and presents symptoms like yellow skin, fatigue, abdominal pain, and dark-coloured urine. In adults, jaundice typically does not necessitate specific treatment. Instead, the underlying causes and potential complications of jaundice may be addressed and managed. Jaundice comes in different types based on the metabolism of bilirubin, including the three different stages (pre-hepatic, hepatic, and post-hepatic), each with its unique causes and treatments.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, MD

Did you know?

  • Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the body tissue resulting from the accumulation of excess bilirubin. source: NCBI 
  • The normal serum levels of bilirubin are less than 1 milligram per deciliter (mg/dL). source: NCBI 
  • Jaundice is best appreciated when serum bilirubin levels exceed 3 mg/dL. source: NCBI 
  • The skin will progressively discolor ranging from lemon yellow to apple green with further increase in serum bilirubin levels. source: NCBI
  • Around 6 out of every 10 babies develop jaundice, including 8 out of 10 babies born prematurely. source: NHS

Types Of Jaundice:

Since there are multiple reasons behind why jaundice can occur, it has been classified into 3 broad categories based on the causal factors. The classification is done by studying which part of the liver is malfunctioning and how it affects the disposal of bilirubin from the bloodstream. Below are the three major types of jaundice that can affect you.

1. Hepatocellular Jaundice:

Hepatocellular Jaundice is a type of jaundice that occurs due to damage to the liver. This damage can be caused due to a variety of reasons. If the parenchymal cells of the liver are affected due to damages that arise as a result of infections or other conditions it can have a significant impact causing the reduction in the metabolism of the liver.

Hepatocellular jaundice can also be caused due to other diseases such as hepatitis wherein the liver is highly infected by the hepatitis virus, rendering it absolutely non-functional. Other medical conditions such as liver cancer or liver lacerations due to liver cirrhosis caused due to alcohol abuse can also cause hepatocellular jaundice.

2. Hemolytic Jaundice:

Hemolytic jaundice happens when the red blood corpuscles in the bloodstream start to break down at a faster than normal pace causing an issue for the liver to keep functioning with such a large amount of bilirubin coming into the system. This condition marked by the excessive decomposition of the red blood cells is known as hemolysis and is a serious medical condition that can prove to be fatal very soon. Hemolytic jaundice can be defined as an imbalance between the RBC breakdown and bilirubin clearance procedure ratio of the blood and liver.

Hemolytic jaundice is highly common in patients suffering from malaria, where the malaria parasites attack the red blood cells at a fast pace leading to a high concentration of bilirubin present in the blood. The production of red blood corpuscles is paramount to keep the RBC count normal in the blood, sometimes red blood cell production fails to match with the amount of RBC decomposition which can also lead to jaundice.

3. Obstructive Jaundice:

Obstructive jaundice is a kind of jaundice that occurs due to blocks that are formed between the bile ducts connecting the liver, gallbladder and intestine. This obstruction or block prevents the liver from removing the excess bilirubin from the liver causing severe malfunctioning of the liver which in turn causes jaundice.

The bile duct is a series of tubes that are responsible for carrying bile from the liver to the gallbladder. Obstructive jaundice can arise due to multiple elements that can cause a block in the bile ducts. The best example of the same would be gallstones which can be present in the passages of the biliary system. Swollen lymph glands can also cause obstructive jaundice.

Jaundice Symptoms:

There are many symptoms of jaundice that can be recognized pretty easily. The hard part for diagnosticians is to understand the underlying cause behind the liver failure causing jaundice. In the below list we will discuss some of the most prevalent symptoms that can be indicators of jaundice.

1. Yellowness of the Skin and Eye Whites:

This is one of the most prevalent symptoms of jaundice that can lead to an easy diagnosis of the disease. The condition of jaundice itself is characterised by the same, the yellowness is caused due to the excessive presence of bilirubin in the bloodstream which has a naturally occurring yellow tinge to it.

2. Vomiting:

Vomiting is yet another classic symptom of jaundice that can occur in the initial stages of the disease. It is caused due to the imperfect functioning of the liver obstructing the normal bowel movements and digestion leading to indigestion which often progress to vomiting.

3. High Fever:

High fever is also a symptom of jaundice, this symptom, however, does not help much with the diagnosis since it’s one of the common symptoms of many other medical conditions. High fever is a way for your body to raise alarms to get your body the needed assistance when it falls sick. High fever in jaundice does the same effect when the overall health of the body degrades in a rapid fashion its ideal to consult a doctor as soon as the fever starts to show.

4. Dark Tinge in Urine:

If you are affected with jaundice there will be chances that your urine will turn extremely dark. This is because of the excess bilirubin that is getting excreted through the urethra. This is a very serious indicator that the bilirubin amount in the patient’s blood is rising at a fast pace.

If dark urine is noticed you need to get it immediately diagnosed in a lab to ensure that there are no further complications that arise due to jaundice.

5. Lack of Hunger:

As the person gets affected with jaundice you will notice a steep decline in the appetite of the person. Various stomach related issues due to the pre-occupation of bile ducts can cause problems such as poor digestion and burning that can be a leading cause for the loss of appetite. You need to take care that the patient needs to keep eating a minimal diet about which we will be discussing later on.

6. Discolouration of Stool:

As jaundice progresses there might be chances that the liver stops working altogether, in such cases, there will be no excretion of bilirubin happening through stool. This leads to the appearance of a pale stool which is one of the very prominent symptoms of jaundice.

Stool tests are therefore very important to doctors as this might be a very strong indicator of jaundice.

7. Stomach Pain:

Stomach pain centred around the region of the liver is yet another symptom of jaundice. This type of pain happens because the liver experiences extreme discomfort due to overworking in the release of bilirubin or due to the blockage of the bile ducts in the case of obstructive jaundice. The pain next to the liver is never to be taken lightly and the patient should immediately consult the doctor to avoid further complications.

8. Abnormal Weight Loss:

Losing weight at a fast pace than normal can be a symptom of jaundice. This is mainly caused by hemolytic jaundice wherein the production of bile juice decreases causing inability in the intestines to absorb enough nutrients from the ingested food. This can also occur due to other symptoms of jaundice including vomiting and loss of appetite.

Causes of Jaundice:

There can be many issues that can lead to jaundice. Certain causes of jaundice can be traced and classified if the type of jaundice is determined. All three types of jaundice are caused due to reasons that equally affect the liver and the blood. Various infections and other diseases can also lead to the progress of jaundice. In the below section we will describe some of the major causes of jaundice.

1. Malaria:

Malaria is a vector-borne disease that affects a lot of people in India. The parasite that is passed on through mosquito bites, nests in the red blood cells and obtains energy from the same. The malaria parasite can lead to faster death of red blood cells can lead to an increased presence of bilirubin in the bloodstream, at a pace that the liver would not be able to cleanse it.

2. Sickle Cell Anaemia:

Sickle cell anaemia is a comparatively rare genetic condition that is characterized by crescent-shaped red blood cells. The red blood cells are ideally supposed to be in a disc shape and this disorder can lead to faster death of RBC’s aiding in the production of more bilirubin causing jaundice.

3. Spherocytosis:

Spherocytosis is another genetic condition that causes the red blood cells to take up a spherical shape instead of the disc shape. This causes the blood cells to disintegrate faster causing the build-up of bilirubin in the blood.

4. Thalassemia:

Yet another genetic condition is thalassemia, which affects the body’s ability to make enough red blood cells to keep a healthy count in the bloodstream. This condition can also cause a rising of the bilirubin in the bloodstream causing conditions like jaundice.

5. Liver Cirrhosis:

Liver cirrhosis is a medical condition that happens due to the scarring of the liver tissue that happens over a long time due to the exposure to the various infections and toxic substances that arises due to alcohol abuse.

6. Hepatitis:

Hepatitis is a medical condition that affects the liver causing it to inflate and this highly affects the productivity of the liver. It comes as a serious medical condition as it makes it extremely hard for the patient to remove the excessive amount of bilirubin present in the body leading to jaundice.

7. Biliary Cirrhosis:

This is a medical condition wherein your bile ducts have undergone severe damage making it extremely hard for it to process and manage bile movements and this affects the management of bilirubin in the bloodstream by a huge margin. Hence leading to the formation of jaundice.

8. Liver Cancer:

Liver cancer can cause serious damage to the liver affecting its normal functionality. It makes the liver work extremely hard with the presence of cancerous tissues within it. This makes it highly possible for someone affected with liver cancer to be affected with jaundice too.

9. Gallstones:

Gallstones are calcium sediments that accumulate in the gallbladder and can have serious effects on the smooth functioning of bile ducts. The bile ducts in the gallbladder play an important role in the excretion of bilirubin from the bloodstream.

10. Pancreatic Cancer:

Pancreatic cancer is a deeply concerning medical condition that can induce jaundice. This is caused due to the growth of malignant cancerous cells within the pancreas.

11. Bile Duct Cancer:

A cancerous growth in your bile ducts can also cause jaundice. This cancer can render the bile ducts to be extremely useless as they cannot pass bile juice or bilirubin through.

12. Biliary Atresia:

Biliary atresia is a genetic condition that causes the absolute absence or severely shrunken size bile ducts causing them to function in a highly unsatisfactory manner. This condition can also cause jaundice as the bile ducts are not able to excrete the excess bilirubin.

Also Read: What is Milk Thistle Good For? Exploring its Research-Backed Benefits

Jaundice Treatment:

The treatment for jaundice will always be based on the kind of underlying ailment which is causing the condition. The type of jaundice plays an important role in determining the course of treatment for the same. Almost all treatment methods for jaundice is based on the underlying cause rather than jaundice itself. In the below section we will discuss some of the common treatment methods used for treating jaundice.

1. Hemolytic Jaundice:

It caused due to anaemia or other conditions limiting the production of a healthy amount of red blood cells are treated by fixing the cause. For general anaemia induced jaundice, having iron supplementation in your diet can help in the treatment of jaundice. In other conditions such as sickle cell anaemia and other genetic disorders that affect the red blood cells, other treatment methods such as iv rehydration and blood transfusions have to be done.

Folic acid supplementation and spleen removal surgery are some of the other treatment methods that are used to treat jaundice caused due to conditions such as thalassemia and spherocytosis. In severe cases where the production of a healthy amount of blood is highly restricted surgical procedures such as bone marrow replacement will have to be done.

2. Hepatocellular Jaundice:

It caused due to considerable damage to the liver is treated by consorting to the root cause which is making the liver not function up to the mark. In cases of liver damage induced due to infections, antiviral medications are used to prevent the infection from spreading and forces it to recede gradually. Hepatitis is one of the main reasons that it can be behind the prognosis of jaundice. Most patients with hepatitis are treated with steroid medications for advanced results. Hepatitis vaccination helps a long way in helping to reduce the chances of the liver getting infected due to hepatitis.

For people who suffer from liver scarring sustained due to cirrhosis, doctors usually prescribe a low protein diet and advise the patient to stay completely away from alcohol. Beta-blockers and intravenous antibiotics are also used for the treatment of the same. Biliary cirrhosis is usually treated using bile lowering medications and extreme itching is usually managed by using antihistamines like Benadryl. Bile reduction medication helps with the condition and an external supply of bile acid is provided to aid with indigestion.

Liver cancer is also one of the leading causes for the presence of jaundice, common cancer treatment methods are implemented in this case. Treatment options such as chemotherapy and targeted radiations are used for the same. In severe cases, the patient has to undergo an entire liver transplant for the treatment.

3. Obstructive jaundice:

It’s generally treated using surgical methods aimed at removing the obstruction surgically. In cases of jaundice which is induced due to gallstones, doctors prescribe the patient a change of diet that can inhibit the production of gallstones. Medication aimed at dissolving the gallstones is also used to make the treatment more effective. In severe cases, surgery is conducted to ensure that the gallstones or the gallbladder are completely replaced.

Obstructive jaundice caused due to the poor functionality of the bile ducts is treated using surgery. Some of the common issues that affect the bile ducts are conditions such as bile duct cancer or biliary atresia. An advanced medical procedure known as the Kasai method is used to remove and replace the faulty bile ducts to remove the obstruction causing jaundice. In the case of pancreatitis, treatment methods will be more focused on the pancreas and usually involves a lot of rest time for the patient. Surgery is done at times to remove the causal factors of inflammation of the pancreas.

Home Remedies for Jaundice:

Home remedies have been used for the treatment of jaundice since the old times. These treatments are mainly focused on flushing out the excess bilirubin from the bloodstream by focusing on alternative diets. In the below section we will discuss some of the common home remedies used for the treatment of jaundice in adults.

However, one thing to be kept in mind is that the progress of jaundice can sometimes be very soon and only taking home remedies may prove to be fatal. Home remedies can be very effective, but it’s always safer to approach a doctor to understand the severity and cause behind your jaundice.

1. Radish:

Radish juice and radish leaves are told to be excellent in making your body free from bilirubin. Taking radish juice along with the extract of its leaves can be very helpful in improving the toxicity levels of your blood and also helps with your bowel movements which can be very helpful if you are suffering from a loss of appetite while suffering from jaundice.

Raw radish juice might taste very aversive in the beginning but you can add supplements such as honey or by diluting it with water to make it more consumable. The effects can be very helpful and will also be a great help to the health of your liver.

2. Gooseberry:

Indian gooseberry is known for its abundance of vitamin C. When combined with lemon it becomes a magical cocktail of health for anyone suffering from jaundice. Indian gooseberry has the ability to protect the damaged cells in your liver by creating a protective layer around them. Vitamin C also helps in regulating blood flow which can be very helpful in the detoxification of the blood.

3. Lemon:

Lemon is a wonderful fruit that can be very helpful among patients who suffer from jaundice. Consuming lemon juice and also the water in which lemon leaves have been boiled can help with providing the needed relief for your damaged liver. In most countries, the doctors ask the patients affected with jaundice to consume a lot of lemon juice.

4. Sugarcane:

Sugarcane juice has some excellent properties that can help patients suffering from jaundice. The elements in sugarcane juice can help in the faster recovery of your liver which in turn can normalise the functioning of blood detoxification.

5. Papaya Leaves:

Papaya leaves have some excellent natural qualities that can aid in the recovery of the liver and also helps in the detoxification of the bloodstream. You need to consume this by crushing the papaya leaves into a paste and keep on having it until you are free of jaundice. Papaya leaves are also considered to be a viable home remedy for treating dengue due to their amazing quality to keep your blood platelet levels from falling.

6. Barley:

Barley is well-known around the world for its excellent medicinal qualities. Consuming well-boiled barley can act as a powerful diuretic that can help in the efficient detoxification of the bloodstream and the liver. Detoxification of the liver is very important for maintaining the toxicity in the bloodstream and this makes consuming barley a very powerful home remedy for jaundice.

Diet Chart for Jaundice:

Allowing your liver to function with only low complex food items is very important for maintaining a healthy status for the liver while suffering from jaundice. It’s important to notice that while a patient is suffering from jaundice he/ she needs to very well hydrated in order to make sure that the body keeps detoxifying itself. It’s also important to follow a healthy diet plan which can help in the smooth functioning of the liver while it’s under pressure already.

Following a balanced diet aiming at putting the least amount of pressure on your liver is a very good option for treating yourself during suffering from jaundice. It’s also important that you keep yourself away from too much salt to ensure that your blood flow remains normal.

Jaundice is a dangerous condition which if left untreated can lead to serious complication and sometimes even death. It’s important that you consult a doctor immediately as soon as you start seeing symptoms of the condition for faster and better relief through treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs):

We hope this article provided you with a fair idea about what jaundice is and what are its symptoms, causes and treatments. In the below section we will try and answer some of the common questions people have about jaundice.

Is jaundice dangerous?

Yes, jaundice can be extremely fatal if left untreated for a long time. In certain cases, jaundice can also lead to death. It’s important that you seek medical help as soon as you notice the onset of jaundice.

Can jaundice be cured?

Yes, jaundice can be cured if the right reason behind the condition is diagnosed in time. There are various treatment methods used for jaundice so that it can be cured in no time.

Can babies have jaundice?

Newborn babies are the ones who are most prone to jaundice. Since their livers are still in the development stage, it makes it difficult to treat babies with jaundice. Medically known as neonatal jaundice this condition can prove to be very fatal and can lead to the eventual death of the baby.

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