Jaundice: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention

Written By: Dr. Shamsheer Kote

Dr. Shamsheer Kote is a Consultant in the Department of Gastroenterology at Medcare Hospital, Al Safa and at Medcare Dr. Saeed Al Shaikh Gastro and Obesity Centre. After completing his MBBS degree from Kasturba Medical College in India, he went on to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (of London) and earned a Membership of the Royal College of Physicians, (London) besides a certification from  CCST (London). 

Updated On:January 24, 2024

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 Jaundice: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention

 What is Jaundice?

Jaundice is a disorder marked by a high concentration of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment that turns the skin, whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes yellow. There are numerous reasons for jaundice, including hepatitis, gallstones, and tumors.

Symptoms of Jaundice

Jaundice may occasionally go unnoticed by the patient. The underlying reasons and how fast or slowly the disease progresses determine how severe the symptoms are.

The following symptoms and indicators could be present if you have short-term jaundice, which is typically brought on by an infection:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Ache in the abdomen
  • Influenza-like symptoms
  • Skin tone changes
  • Feces or urine that is a dark clay color

If an infection is not the source of your jaundice, you may experience symptoms including weight loss or itchy skin (pruritus). Abdominal discomfort is the most typical symptom if pancreatic or biliary tract malignancies are the cause of the jaundice. Jaundice associated with liver illness can occasionally occur if you have:

  • Liver inflammation or chronic hepatitis
  • Gangrenous pyoderma
  • Hepatitis A, B, or C that is acute
  • Polyarthralgias (inflammation of the joints)

Jaundice in Infants

The majority of hospitals have a policy of checking infants for jaundice before releasing them. Infants should be checked for jaundice during routine medical examinations and at least once every eight to twelve hours while in the hospital.

 

Between the third and seventh day after birth, when bilirubin levels often reach their peak, you should have your newborn checked for jaundice. Make a follow-up appointment within two days after discharge if your infant is released from the hospital before 72 hours have passed since delivery in order to check for jaundice.

Symptoms of Jaundice in Infants

The following indications or symptoms could point to consequences from excessive bilirubin or severe jaundice in infants:

  • The color of your baby's skin becomes yellow.
  • Your baby's abdomen, arms, or legs have yellowish skin.
  • The baby's eye whites appear to be yellow.
  • Your infant appears lethargic, ill, or is finding difficulty waking up.
  • If your infant isn't eating well or isn't gaining weight.
  • Your infant cries in a loud voice.
  • If your infant exhibits any further worrisome behaviors or symptoms.

 When to see a doctor for Jaundice?

To ascertain the underlying cause of jaundice, a gastroenterologist is typically consulted. Also, if you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms or observe a yellow sclera, call your doctor right once. In adults, jaundice may be a sign of a serious medical condition. Ignoring the signs of jaundice will only make the condition worse.

 Causes of Jaundice

Concerns with the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas are frequently indicative of jaundice. When the body accumulates too much bilirubin, jaundice can develop. This might occur when:

  • There are too many red blood cells dying or decomposing in the liver.
  • The liver is harmed or overworked.
  • The liver's bilirubin cannot enter the digestive tract in a healthy manner.

Jaundice can be caused by the following conditions:

  • Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E that can infect the liver
  • Specific medications (such as an acetaminophen overdose), adverse reactions to other medications, or exposure to poisons (for example, poisonous mushrooms)
  • Diseases or birth anomalies that make it difficult for the body to break down bilirubin (such as Gilbert syndrome, Dubin-Johnson syndrome, Rotor syndrome, or Crigler-Najjar syndrome)
  • Persistent liver disease
  • Diseases of the gallbladder or gallstones that block the bile duct
  • Blood disorders
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Bile buildup in the gallbladder during pregnancy

 Jaundice Risk Factors

Risk factors for liver and gallbladder problems are similar to those that may increase the likelihood of jaundice. They may consist of the following:

  • Drinking disorder
  • Using illegal drugs
  • Using drugs that could damage the liver
  • The possibility of contracting hepatitis A, B, or C
  • Being exposed to particular industrial chemicals

Jaundice Diagnosis

While diagnosing jaundice, medical professionals look for indicators of liver illness, such as:

  • Bruising of the skin
  • Spider angiomas or the abnormal collection of blood vessels near the surface of the skin
  • Redness on the palms (red coloration of the palms and fingertips).

Conjugated jaundice is indicated by a positive bilirubin result from a urine test. Serum tests should be used to corroborate the results of the urinalysis. The complete blood count (CBC) and bilirubin levels will be part of the serum testing.

The size and tenderness of your liver will also be assessed during an examination by your doctor. To further confirm the diagnosis, he or she may employ imaging techniques including liver biopsies and imaging.

Jaundice Treatment

Jaundice Treatment for Adults

To treat jaundice, the cause of the jaundice must be addressed by medical professionals. Jaundice cannot be cured with any one specific medication. Doctors may prescribe the medication cholestyramine to relieve the itching brought on by jaundice in addition to addressing the underlying cause.

Jaundice Treatment for Infants

Tests must be performed to determine whether your infant has excessive amounts of a substance called bilirubin in their blood, as treatment is typically only required if this is the case.

The majority of infants with jaundice do not require treatment since their blood bilirubin levels are reported to be low. In these situations, the problem often improves within 10 to 14 days and won't harm your child.

Your infant may need to be taken to the hospital and treated with phototherapy or an exchange transfusion if their jaundice does not go better on its own or if testing reveal elevated levels of bilirubin in their blood.

Treatment using a specific sort of light is called phototherapy (not sunlight). By facilitating the liver's breakdown and removal of the bilirubin from your baby's blood, it is occasionally used to treat neonatal jaundice. Your baby's skin will be exposed to as much light as possible during phototherapy.

A complete blood transfusion, sometimes referred to as an exchange transfusion, may be necessary if your infant has a very high blood bilirubin level or if phototherapy has not been successful. During an exchange transfusion, a tiny plastic tube will be inserted into blood vessels in your baby's arms, legs, or umbilical cord to remove blood. Blood from a qualified matched donor is used to replace the original blood.

 Jaundice Prevention

Prevention of jaundice depends on the disorder causing it. Some of the illnesses might not be preventable. To lessen your risk of getting jaundice, follow these recommendations:

  • Consume alcohol in moderation. No more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women are considered moderate. Be cautious while combining alcohol and other drugs, such acetaminophen.
  • Avoid coming into contact with industrial chemicals.
  • Never exchange needles or nasal snorting supplies.
  • Practice safe sex.
  • Get the hepatitis A vaccine to lower your risk of contracting the disease.
  • Get the hepatitis B vaccine to lower your risk of contracting the disease.

 References

Abbas, M. W., Shamshad, T., Ashraf, M. A., & Javaid, R. (2016). Jaundice: a basic review. Int J Res Med Sci4(5), 1313-1319.

Fargo, M. V., Grogan, S. P., & Saguil, A. (2017). Evaluation of jaundice in adults. American family physician95(3), 164-168.

Mishra, S., Agarwal, R., Deorari, A. K., & Paul, V. K. (2008). Jaundice in the newborns. The Indian Journal of Pediatrics75, 157-163.

Mitra, S., & Rennie, J. (2017). Neonatal jaundice- aetiology, diagnosis and treatment. British Journal of Hospital Medicine, 78(12), 699-704.

Roche, S. P., & Kobos, R. (2004). Jaundice in the adult patient. American family physician69(2), 299-304.

Stillman, A. E. (1990). Jaundice. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition.

 

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