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Jaundice is the proper medical term for the yellowing of the eyes and skin. Jaundice is actually a symptom of an underlying problem rather than a condition itself, caused by a buildup of bilirubin in your body. Bilirubin is a substance that forms in the liver, as it breaks down old blood cells. In a healthy person, the liver also controls the destruction of bilirubin, maintaining an appropriate level. Because bilirubin is yellow, having too much of it in the body turns the skin and eyes a yellow color. There are a wide variety of conditions that can cause bilirubin, including many serious illnesses.

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Liver Infection

Bacteria or a virus can cause a liver infection, and it can be deadly if left untreated. Jaundice is one of the first visible signs of infection, so it is often critical to seek treatment right away if you notice a yellowing of your skin or eyes. Although most infections are treatable with antibiotics or antiviral medication, damage to the liver can be irreversible if not caught in time. Your physician may want you to stay in the hospital for observation during treatment, depending on your age and health status. Minor infections can often be treated at home instead.

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Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is an irreversible condition in which intensive scarring and loss of cells cause liver function to decrease. This occurs in the latter stages of liver disease and often goes undetected until it is too late. Jaundice is one of the primary symptoms and is often one of the first visible signs of liver failure. Cirrhosis replaces healthy, working tissue in the liver with nonfunctioning scar tissue that does not aid in the normal functions of the liver, like controlling bilirubin levels. This can be fatal if left untreated, so be sure to talk to your doctor at the first signs of jaundice.

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Pancreatic Cancer

Although most of the causes of jaundice are related to the liver, the pancreas can also be a culprit. That's because problems with this organ can block the bile duct, leading to jaundice. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most common types of cancer for both men and women, and it has a very poor prognosis overall. Early treatment can increase the survival rate, which is why it is important to talk to your doctor at the first sign of any symptoms. Together, you can determine the best treatment options to manage your cancer and reduce symptoms.

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Alcoholism

Long-term drinking can be detrimental to your health. Alcoholics who drink multiple beverages a day for more than five years run the risk of permanently damaging the liver. In fact, alcoholism has been linked to many of the causes of jaundice, including cirrhosis, hepatitis, and other liver diseases. If you think you have a drinking problem, you should get help immediately, before irreversible damage can be done. Other types of alcohol abuse, like regular binge drinking, can be just as detrimental to your health as alcoholism. It is also important to remember that high-functioning alcoholism may not impact your daily life, but it can have fatal consequences on your body.

alcohol jaundice

Anemia

There are many types of anemia, but one of them is a frequent cause of jaundice. Hemolytic anemia causes a person's red blood cells to break down abnormally, which can cause a build-up of bilirubin in the system. While most of its symptoms are similar to other types of anemia, hemolytic anemia can also cause jaundice and other serious complications. Patients with hemolytic anemia may notice shortness of breath, chest pain, and excessive fatigue in addition to the traditional yellowing of the skin and eyes that occurs with jaundice. Steroid therapy is the most commonly used method to treat this condition.

anemia jaundice

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is another common cause of jaundice. It is a type of infection, which is typically caused by a virus. Most people think of this condition as a sexually transmitted disease, but there are actually many types. Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E are all transmitted in different ways, while alcoholic hepatitis and autoimmune hepatitis are both types that develop in the body but are not contagious. In addition to jaundice, hepatitis causes abdominal pain, flu-like symptoms, and weight loss. Your doctor will use a combination of blood tests and liver function tests, along with physical examination, to determine whether hepatitis or another illness cause your symptoms.

hepatitis jaundice

Overdose

Many medications have been shown to have detrimental effects on the liver, which can cause liver disease that leads to jaundice. This includes birth control pills, steroids, and many over-the-counter medications like naproxen or acetaminophen. Patients who regularly take these medications should talk to their doctor about whether the benefits of these drugs outweigh the risks since liver disease can be a very serious condition. Even if you think you need the medication, your physician may be able to prescribe something less damaging. Jaundice caused by medication use can be caused by chronic, long-term use or by taking large quantities of a drug at one time.

overdose jaundice

Gallstones

For your liver to process bilirubin and maintain normal levels, it must be able to pass bile into the small intestine via the bile duct. Bile ducts are small tubes that are responsible for carrying bile, and foreign bodies like gallstones easily block them. If you have gallstones, you will usually experience intense pain on the right side of your abdomen as the first symptom, but jaundice can occur if you ignore the other signs for too long. Your doctor can perform a CT scan on your abdomen to determine whether a gallstone blockage is the reason for your jaundice.

gallstone jaundice

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is often a silent disease at first. In the later stages, jaundice and pain can be two of the early signs of the disease. Like pancreatic cancer, liver cancer usually has a poor prognosis if not caught in the early stages. As the cancer progresses, cirrhosis can permanently reduce the functionality of the liver. Having surgery to remove the cancerous tumors in your liver can result in a better prognosis, especially if it has not spread to other organs, so talk to your physician at the first signs of jaundice, pain, or any of the other symptoms of this disease.

liver jaundice

Premature Birth

Most babies have some jaundice after birth, but it is especially prevalent in prematurely born infants. In these cases, jaundice will appear within a few days of birth, and typically resolves itself as the child's liver gets rid of the excess bilirubin. However, it should still be checked out by a pediatrician. Since untreated hyperbilirubinemia can cause permanent brain damage if it does not resolve on its own. If your child was born prematurely, they may need to be hospitalized in order to properly treat the condition. Although jaundice occurs largely because the baby's organs need to catch up after relying on the mother for bilirubin, infection or disease can also be culprits.

jaundice babies

Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.