Jaundice can occur in babies, children, and adults. Jaundice is not an illness, but a medical condition in which too much bilirubin – a compound produced by the breakdown of hemoglobin from red blood cells – is circulating in the blood. The excess bilirubin causes the skin, eyes, and the mucus membranes in the mouth to turn a yellowish color .
Jaundice is common in newborn babies and will usually clear up without treatment. However, for adults the symptoms of jaundice may indicate damage to the liver. If the cause is not treated, it can lead to liver failure.
What Causes Jaundice?
Jaundice may be caused by a number of factors, including:
An obstruction of the bile duct, often due to a tumor or gallstone
Biliary stricture (a narrowing of the ducts that transport bile)
Inadequate blood flow to the liver
Congenital disorders involving bilirubin
Malaria (an infection that can destroy red blood cells)
How Is Jaundice Diagnosed?
A physical examination as well as observation by the doctor will indicate jaundice. However, because the condition has a number of possible causes, the doctor will likely order one or more of the following tests for adults:
Serum bilirubin: A test that measures the concentration of bilirubin in the blood.
Complete blood count: A blood test that provides information about the components of blood including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Prothrombin time: A blood test that measures the blood’s clotting ability
Abdominal ultrasound : An abdominal ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce a “picture” called a sonogram. A sonogram of the liver can show whether it is swollen or abnormal.
Liver biopsy : A test where a small sample of the liver’s tissue is removed and then analyzed in a laboratory.
How Is Jaundice Treated?
Since jaundice is a symptom, not a specific disorder, treatment for it depends on its cause. This can range from the removal of gallstones or tumors to antibiotics to treat infections, to liver transplant in cases where the liver is severely damaged. However, for conditions like cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis, which are lifelong problems, jaundice may be permanent or recurring.