Jaundice is a condition that causes the skin or the whites of your eyes to turn yellow. It happens when you have too much "Bilirubin" in the blood stream. Bilirubin is a chemical that occurs naturally in the body from the breakdown of old blood products; bilirubin is processed by the liver and turned into bile, which then goes into your intestines to help digest your food.
Causes of jaundice
Jaundice can be caused by problems with your liver or more rarely, with a problem with you blood cells.
Problems with the gallbladder or pancreas can also cause indirectly cause jaundice. Gallstones (stones that form in the gallbladder) can cause an obstruction, a blockage in the tubes (called bile ducts) that drain the bile from the liver into the intestines. This causes the bilirubin to get backed up into the blood stream, which causes high levels of bilirubin in the blood, and thus causes Jaundice. This can occur either before or after gallbladder surgery, and may require special procedures to remove the stones that are blocking the bile ducts.
Liver diseases that cause jaundice include:
- Hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver caused by infection
- Heavy alcohol use, this can lead to permanent damage of the liver, which causes the liver to not work properly
- Liver damage caused from certain medicines, herbal supplements, or illegal drugs
- Liver cancer
Gilbert’s syndrome is another cause of jaundice. It is a painless, harmless condition of the blood system. It can run in families. People with this syndrome sometimes get jaundice when they are under stress, take certain medicines, or have an infection. Women with Gilbert’s syndrome might get jaundice around their menstrual periods.
Testing for jaundice
Your doctor will give you a blood test to measure the level of bilirubin in your blood. Your doctor might also give you tests to see what’s causing your jaundice.
Your doctor or nurse will decide which tests you should have based on your age, other symptoms, and individual situation.
Tests doctors use to find the cause of jaundice usually include:
- Blood tests
- An ultrasound – This test uses sound waves to take pictures of the organs inside your belly
- A CT scan – This is a special kind of X-ray
- An ERCP – This test involves putting a flexible tube down your throat and taking X-rays
- A biopsy – For this test, a doctor takes a small sample of tissue from your liver. Then another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope
Treatment for jaundice
Treatments for jaundice depend on the cause of the jaundice. Your doctor or nurse might recommend that you:
- Get plenty of rest - Ask your doctor or nurse when it is OK to go back to work or school
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid certain medicines - Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about the medicines you take and will tell you which ones to avoid
If your jaundice was caused by gallstones, you might also need to take medicines or have surgery to remove your gallbladder or have procedures to look for gallstones in your bile ducts.
If you have Gilbert’s syndrome, you will not need to do anything extra to treat your jaundice. Gilbert’s syndrome does not cause long-term problems on its own.
Learn more about jaundice.