Jaundice: Causes and Treatment

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Blood consists of fluid called plasma and three major types of cells, the red blood cells (RBC), the white blood cells (WBC) and the platelets. The RBC contains haemoglobin, a red coloured molecule responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to different organs in the body. RBCs are continuously being made and broken down by your body. Breakdown of the haemoglobin present in the RBC leads to the formation of a yellow coloured pigment called billirubin. Billirubin is always present in low concentration in the plasma. The billirubin present in the plasma is taken up by the cells in the liver. Here it is attached to different tiny molecules to make it easier to excrete; this form of billirubin is called conjugated billirubin. Conjugated billirubin is excreted from the body in bile.

Jaundiceis a condition in which there is yellowing of the nails, mucous membranes and the eye due to increase in the level of billirubin (either conjugated or non conjugated) in the blood. Jaundice is a symptoms that can accompany a disease.

Causes of Jaundice

Jaundice is caused due to increase in level of billirubin in the blood. The increase can be due to:

  • Increased production of billirubin
  • Haemolytic anemiaincreased breakdown of RBCs leading to an increase in production of billirubin
  • Reabsorption of a large blood containing wound: breakdown of the haemoglobin in the blood present in the wound leads to an increase in billirubin levels

These conditions cause a rise in levels of unconjugated bilirubin

  • Damage to liver cells leading to increase in realise on conjugated billirubin into the blood
  • Viral infection of liver like hepatitis A virus, hepatitis B virus
  • Chronic alcohol consumption
  • Drug toxicity
  • Genetic disorders
  • Some autoimmune diseases
  • Reduction in excretion of billirubin
  • Gallstone: may block the outflow of bile
  • Cancer of gall bladder
  • Pancreatic tumour: may compress the bile duct, preventing its flow into the gut.

Symptoms of Jaundice

Jaundice can be acute or chronic. Individuals having acute jaundice may experience

  • Fever
  • Yellowing of nail, eye and mucosa
  • Itching of skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chills.

Diagnosis of Jaundice

Jaundice is diagnosed with the help of physical examination and other medical tests. During your physical examination, your doctor will look for abnormal spidery blood vessels near the skin surface, redness of palms, and yellowing in the nails and the eyes. Along with these finding your doctor will like to request a few more tests to confirm jaundice and indentify the cause. The tests may be:

  • Urine test: an increase in level of billirubin in the urine is a sign of jaundice
  • Blood test: a cell count will be requested to check for increased breaks down of RBCs
  • Blood test to measure the level of conjugated and unconjugated bilirubin in the blood
  • CT scan and/or ultrasound to determine to problem in the liver and the size of the liver
  • A liver biopsy

Complications of Jaundice

Complications faced by individuals being treated for jaundice are:

Treatment of Jaundice

The treatment of jaundice depends upon the cause. In adults, acute episodes of jaundice resolve on their own most of the times. Greater care has to be taken when neonates are affected by jaundice.