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 natural chemical found in the body after old blood products breakdown. Bilirubin is processed in the liver and turned into bile. Bile 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 cause jaundice. Gallstones are stones that form in the gallbladder. They can cause an obstruction or blockage in your bile ducts or tubes. These tubes drain the bile from the liver into the intestines. When you have blocked bile ducts, the bilirubin gets backed up into the blood stream. This causes those high levels of bilirubin in the blood.
Jaundice can occur both before or after gallbladder surgery. You may need a special procedure to remove the stones that are blocking your bile ducts.
Liver diseases that cause jaundice include:
- Hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver caused by infection
- Heavy alcohol use causing permanent damage of the liver
- Liver damage 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 Gilbert’s syndrome sometimes get jaundice when they:
- Are under stress
- Have an infection
- Take certain medicines
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 need based on your unique case.
Tests doctors use to find the cause of jaundice usually include:
- An ERCP – An ERCP is a test which involves us placing a flexible tube down your throat and taking X-rays.
- Blood - A blood test can tell us if your liver is functioning correctly.
- CT scan – This is a special kind of imaging test which let's us see your liver as a 3-D image.
- Liver biopsy – A liver biopsy is a procedure in which you have tissue samples removed from the liver. They are then examined under a microscope for signs of damage or disease.
- An ultrasound – This test uses sound waves to take pictures of the organs inside your abdomen
Treatment for jaundice
Treatments for jaundice depend on the cause of the jaundice. Your doctor or nurse might recommend that you:
- Avoid certain medicines - Your care team will talk with you about the medicines you take. They'll help you know which kinds of medications to avoid.
- Get plenty of rest - Ask your doctor or nurse when it is OK to go back to work or school.
- Avoid alcohol.
- If the cause of your jaundice was gallstones, you might also need medicine or surgical care. The first step would be to have a procedure to look for gallstones in your bile ducts. If you condition is serious enough, your doctor may remove your gallbladder.
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.