What is Jaundice?
Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin caused by excessive amounts of yellow brown pigments in the bloodstream. This discoloration may also appear in the eyes and abnormally dark urine may be produced. Bile pigment is produced regularly when old red blood cells are broken down, mainly by the spleen. Red blood cells normally have an active life of about 120 days and are continually being replaced by new red blood cells, which are made in the bone marrow. The bile pigment is absorbed from the blood by the liver, where it is normally broken down and passed through the bile ducts (tubes) to be excreted from the body in bile, which gives the color to stools. Jaundice occurs when this process is disrupted some way, causing the bile pigments to accumulate in the bloodstream. This excess pigment is then taken up by the skin and sclera (whites of the eyes), turning them yellow.
What causes Jaundice?
Disruption of the normal breakdown and excretion of bile pigment may result from many different disorders. The following are the four main groups:
Any type of where there is an increased turnover of red blood cells can cause jaundice. For example, Hemolytic anemia (types associated with abnormally rapid red blood cell destruction); Pernicious anemia (anemia resulting from vitamin B12 deficiency) and Sickle cell anemia (a congenital form). In these cases the liver cannot cope with the abnormally large amount of bile pigment being produced as a consequence of the high red blood cell destruction. Additional symptoms of anemia include weakness, palpitations, pallor, breathlessness and fatigue.
Bile duct obstruction
The bile ducts which connect the liver, gall bladder (bile storage sac) and intestines, may become obstructed by gallstones, gall-bladder cancer or cancer of the head of the pancreas. Gallstones (lumps of solid material in the gall bladder) may be present for years without producing any symptoms. When a gallstone becomes lodged in the neck of the gall bladder, or in one of the bile ducts pressure builds up, causing intense pain in the upper abdomen. In addition other symptoms that suggest gallstones, is belching and discomfort after fatty meals.
Liver conditions : Liver damage may result in jaundice, as the liver cells become unable to process bile pigments efficiently.
Is an inflammation of the liver, which can range from a mild infection with no symptoms to an incapacitating illness. Jaundice is the characteristic symptom, appearing in the second phase of the disease. Initial symptoms may be similar to influenza or gastroenteritis, including severe headache, fever, aching muscles, loss of appetite and general weakness.
Is a chronic condition in which the liver becomes scarred, resulting in serious malfunction. The major cause is alcoholism although some cases are the result of exposure to toxic chemicals. People with mild cirrhosis may show no symptom. The severe form comes on gradually with nausea, vomiting, flatulence and weight loss. Later jaundice develops and the liver becomes enlarged. Fluids may collect in the abdominal cavity, causing swelling in the area from the ribs to the groin. Another important cause of jaundice is Hepatitis B, acquired by the spread of blood, from the practice of sharing needles among drug abusers in particular. All sufferers are highly infectious in this way, often for life. Immature liver : Many babies, especially those born prematurely, develop jaundice. This is because their liver is not yet fully developed. The jaundice usually disappears of its own accord in a few days.