Jaundice: Not always the liver is to blame

Jaundice (jaundice) typically produces symptoms such as yellowing of the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. The cause of the discoloration is an increased bilirubin concentration in the body. This can have various causes, including a disease of the liver or bile. Jaundice in adults must be differentiated from so-called neonatal jaundice. This is not a symptom of a disease, but occurs as part of a normal development process. If adults have jaundice, the treatment depends on the underlying disease.

Causes of jaundice

If there is an increased concentration of bile pigment bilirubin in the blood, yellowing of the eyes, the skin and the mucous membranes occurs. Bilirubin is a breakdown product of the red blood pigment hemoglobin. In certain diseases, its concentration in the blood increases and it comes to deposits in the tissue. These deposits then cause the yellowish glow. The yellowing occurs at about a concentration of two milligrams per deciliter of blood.

Jaundice can be caused by various causes. Roughly these can be divided into three categories:

  1. Blood disease (prehepatic jaundice)
  2. Disease of the liver (hepatic jaundice)
  3. Bile disease (posthepatic jaundice)

Diseases of the blood as a cause

If a disease of the blood is the cause of jaundice, this is called pre-hepatic jaundice, as the cause is in front of the liver.

The increased bilirubin concentration can be triggered inter alia by the fact that too many red blood cells decay. Since bilirubin is a breakdown product of the red blood pigment hemoglobin, this increases the bilirubin level. This is the case, for example, with viral infections, intoxications, diseases such as sickle cell anemia or artificial heart valves. Similarly, problems with a blood transfusion may be the cause.

If the liver does not follow the bilirubin degradation, the dye deposits in the tissue and causes the typical discoloration.

Diseases of the liver as a cause

If the causes of jaundice in the liver, it is called hepatic jaundice. Most then a liver inflammation is the trigger. This can be caused for example by the use of certain medications, the excessive consumption of alcohol or an infection with viruses such as the hepatitis B virus.

If an acute becomes chronic liver inflammation, liver cirrhosis or liver cancer can develop as a result.

Bile diseases as a cause

In posthepatic jaundice, the causes of jaundice are the liver.

Often then a bile block is responsible for the symptoms. Because if the bile fluid can not drain because of a gallstone, the fluid accumulates and some components - including bilirubin - can pass into the blood. In addition to gallstones, tumors and adhesions caused by surgery or inflammation can also cause bile-blockage.

Symptoms of jaundice

The most typical symptom of jaundice is a yellowish discoloration of the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. In addition, it can come to a number of other complaints.

The symptoms that occur are always dependent on the cause of jaundice. Depending on this, signs such as fatigue, fever, abdominal pain or itching may be noticeable. In addition, the color of the stool and urine may change.

Neonatal jaundice

Newborn jaundice in babies must be differentiated from pathological jaundice that occurs in adults. Because when the skin turns yellowish in infants, this is usually harmless. Usually, the symptom occurs about two to three days after birth and disappears after one or two weeks.

As long as babies are in the mother's womb, they are supplied with oxygen via their blood. For that they need a lot of red blood cells. After birth, however, not all the blood cells are needed and some decay. This causes bilirubin, which is converted in the liver and then excreted. If too much bilirubin is present, it can lead to a congestion in front of the liver and from a certain concentration to jaundice.

Correctly diagnose yellowing of the skin

Since there are many different causes of yellowing of the skin, it is not always easy to diagnose jaundice. First, there is usually a detailed conversation in which the doctor asks, among other things, about medications taken, alcohol consumption or recent trips. Also existing pre-existing conditions such as gallstones or a cancer should be mentioned.

Subsequently, various physical examinations are performed, including:

  • a blood test
  • a urine and stool examination
  • a palpation of the liver and gallbladder
  • an ultrasound examination of the upper abdomen

Depending on the result, further examinations may be necessary afterwards.

Treat jaundice

Jaundice is not a disease of its own but a symptom of another disease. Therefore, jaundice is not contagious, but it can be certain underlying diseases. For the same reason, there is no vaccine against jaundice. However, certain causes such as hepatitis B infection can be prevented by vaccination.

If you find yourself yellowing your eyes or skin, you should always see a doctor and have the cause cleared up by him. With drugs or home remedies, you can achieve nothing in case of jaundice. The only way to heal is to have the underlying disease treated.

How exactly the treatment of jaundice looks depends on the underlying disease. For example, if there is a problem with bile, such as a gallstone, the stone must be removed. If the causes of jaundice are the use of certain medications or excessive alcohol consumption, the triggering substance should be discontinued. Also, talk to your doctor if there are other treatment options.

Share with friends

Leave your comment