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Jaundice: Understanding the Causes and Prevention of The Yellow Disease

If you notice a tinge of yellow in your skin or the whites of your eye, do not ignore. Get yourself checked for jaundice.

What is jaundice?

Jaundice is a yellowish discolouration of the skin and white part of the eyes and mucous membranes caused by high levels of bilirubin (a yellowish pigment found in the bile, a fluid made by the liver). The level of bilirubin in the blood determines the colour tone. If the bilirubin level is mildly elevated, the skin/whites of the eye are yellowish; if the level is high — they tend to be brownish.

It is important to note that jaundice by itself is not a disease but in fact, a symptom of an underlying blood or liver disorder.

What causes jaundice?

One of the primary functions of the liver is to remove bilirubin, a by-product of the everyday breakdown of red blood cells. Jaundice occurs when the liver fails to remove it from the bloodstream, metabolise and excrete it as bile.

Therefore, jaundice could be an indication of:

  • A malfunction in the liver that incapacitates it from removing bilirubin and eliminating it.
  • Blockage of the bile ducts. (The bile duct can be blocked by cancer, gallstones or inflammation of the bile duct).
  • Too much bilirubin being produced for the liver to remove from the blood (For example, in case of malaria where there is rapid destruction of red blood corpuscles, very high levels of bilirubin are produced).

What diseases cause jaundice?

Several common conditions could lead to an increase in bilirubin production. Some of the diseases that cause jaundice include Hepatitis-B, Hepatitis-C, Alcoholic liver disease, liver cancer and pancreatic cancer. Some drugs could also cause jaundice. This happens as a consequence of the medications that are metabolised by the liver.

Jaundice symptoms:

  • Yellow staining of the skin, tongue and the whites if the eye
  • Deep yellow-coloured urine
  • Clay-coloured and foul-smelling faeces
  • Dull pain in the liver
  • Loss of appetite
  • Slow pulse
  • Nausea, severe constipation, extreme weakness
  • Itchy skin, bitter taste in the mouth
  • Fever, headache
  • Undue fatigue

Prevention and treatment of jaundice

There are ways to prevent jaundice:

  • Get yourself vaccinated against Hepatitis B
  • Eat in hygienic places, preferably where the food handlers wear gloves
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Practice safe sex, as Hepatitis B can get transferred through sex

As mentioned earlier, jaundice is more an indication of a disease. So if you suspect jaundice, go see a doctor. The treatment requires the diagnosis of the specific cause for jaundice.

Typically, a light diet, consisting of fruits and vegetables with lots of fluids such as fruit juices, tender coconut water and buttermilk is advised to take the load off your sluggish liver.

Jaundice warning!

If diagnosed with jaundice stay away from alcohol, fried or heavy foods for a few months after recovery or you might risk a relapse.

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Verified By Dr Amitav Mohanty
MBBS, MD -Medicine, Senior Consultant - General Medicine, Apollo Hospitals Bhubanswar

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