Jaundice

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Overview

Yellowish discolouration of the skin, sclera (whites) of the eyes, and mucous membranes is known as jaundice. It occurs due to high bilirubin (a yellow-orange pigment), which is formed during the breakdown of blood. Persistent jaundice can indicate the presence of a disease increasing the breakdown of blood or the decreased removal of this pigment through the liver.

Causes

Bilirubin is formed when old, dead red blood cells are metabolized within the liver and then excreted out with bile. If there is too much breakdown of blood, or too little excretion of bilirubin out of the liver, this disease may develop. Some conditions in which this occurs include;

  • Alcohol abuse damaging the liver
  • Liver infections (hepatitis)
  • Liver cancer (Hepatocellular carcinoma)
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Blood disorders (such as haemolytic anemia)
  • Adverse drug reactions

In neonates, this disease is commonly found due to underdeveloped liver at the time of birth.

Symptoms

Jaundice is not an illness, but a symptom of an underlying pathology within the blood, liver, gallbladder or pancreas. Symptoms that may present in such a case include:

  • Yellow discolouration of the skin, eyes, and mucosal membranes
  • Pruritic or itching
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pale stools and dark urine
  • Foul smelling stool

Diagnosis

After clinical examination, jaundice can be evaluated easily by blood tests for bilirubin levels. Further tests such as Liver Function Tests (LFTs), CBC, Ultrasounds, CT scan, ERCP can also be conducted to pinpoint the cause behind raised bilirubin and jaundice.

Treatment

Treatment of this disease is often carried out according to the underlying pathology present.

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