Causes, Symptoms, & When to contact a Doctor

Symptoms of jaundice including yellow skin and eyes, liver problems

Jaundice is a medical condition where the skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellow due to a high level of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is produced from the breakdown of red blood cells. Normally, the liver processes bilirubin and ends up in your stool and urine. However, if the liver cannot process bilirubin effectively, it builds up in the body, leading to jaundice.

Both adults and babies can experience jaundice, with neonatal jaundice being particularly common in newborns, due to the immature liver not being able to process bilirubin efficiently. Recognizing the symptoms below is crucial for early diagnosis and management.

  • Yellow skin and eyes: The most obvious sign of jaundice.
  • Dark urine: Due to high levels of bilirubin being excreted through the urine.
  • Pale stools: Because bilirubin is not reaching the intestines.
  • Itching: Caused by bilirubin depositing in the skin.
  • Fatigue: General feeling of tiredness due to the body fighting the underlying condition.
  • Abdominal pain: Particularly in the liver region, indicating liver inflammation or blockage.

Still worried? Consult a GP!

Causes of jaundice such as high bilirubin levels and liver issues

Jaundice can result from various underlying conditions, often related to the liver, gallbladder, or blood.

Understanding the specific cause of jaundice is essential for effective treatment and management. Accurate diagnosis typically involves blood tests and imaging studies to determine the underlying issue. Some of the common causes include:

  • Liver Problems: Conditions such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer can impair the liver's ability to process bilirubin. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver often caused by viral infections, while cirrhosis involves scarring of the liver tissue.
  • Blood Disorders: Hemolytic anemia and sickle cell disease can cause excessive breakdown of red blood cells, leading to high bilirubin levels. These conditions can overwhelm the liver’s capacity to process bilirubin.
  • Gallbladder Issues: Gallstones and cholecystitis can obstruct bile ducts, preventing bilirubin from being excreted. Gallstones block the bile ducts, causing bile to back up into the liver.
  • Infections: Diseases like malaria and leptospirosis can affect liver function by causing inflammation or directly damaging liver cells.
  • Neonatal Jaundice: This occurs due to the immature liver in newborns, especially in premature babies. Their livers are not fully developed and cannot process bilirubin efficiently.
  • Breastfeeding Jaundice: Insufficient breastfeeding can lead to dehydration and decreased bilirubin elimination. Proper feeding can help flush out bilirubin through the baby's stool.
  • Blood Type Incompatibility: When the mother’s and baby’s blood types are incompatible, it can lead to jaundice in the newborn. This condition, known as hemolytic disease of the newborn, causes rapid breakdown of red blood cells.

If you need more information, or you want to learn more about these different causes, you can always contact one of our MIA doctors for advice.

Still worried? Consult a GP!

Treatment options for jaundice in babies and adults, including diet and medical care

Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial to prevent complications and ensure effective management of jaundice. Always consult a healthcare professional if you suspect jaundice to get the proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

While it is always advised to contact our MIA doctor when jaundice occurs, lifestyle and diet changes can be beneficial in some cases of jaundice. This includes a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, while avoiding alcohol and fatty foods to reduce liver strain. Staying hydrated helps flush out excess bilirubin, and herbal teas like dandelion and chamomile can support liver function.

Phototherapy is used for babies, involving specific light waves to break down bilirubin. Mild neonatal jaundice may benefit from brief indirect sunlight exposure, ensuring the baby is not overheated. Below you can find some (preventive) remedies for jaundice:

  • Lifestyle and Diet Changes: Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can support liver health. Avoiding alcohol and fatty foods can also help reduce liver strain.
  • Hydration: Drinking plenty of fluids helps the body to flush out excess bilirubin. Staying well-hydrated can assist the liver in processing and eliminating waste products.
  • Phototherapy: This is commonly used for babies and involves exposing the skin to specific light waves to break down bilirubin. This treatment is usually done in a hospital setting and is very effective.
  • Sunlight Exposure: For mild cases of neonatal jaundice, placing the baby in indirect sunlight can help reduce bilirubin levels. It’s important to avoid direct sunlight to prevent sunburn.
    • Severe Jaundice: Rapid and noticeable yellowing of the skin and eyes spreading over the body. This can indicate a severe underlying condition requiring urgent intervention.
    • Persistent Vomiting: Especially in newborns, as it can indicate a serious underlying issue like a bowel obstruction or severe infection.
    • Neurological Symptoms: Confusion, lethargy, or difficulty waking up, which can signal severe complications like hepatic encephalopathy.
    • Fever and Abdominal Pain: These symptoms, along with jaundice, can indicate a serious condition such as cholangitis or liver abscess, requiring urgent care.
    • Dark Urine and Pale Stools: These can be signs of significant liver problems, such as bile duct obstruction or liver failure, that need immediate medical attention.

Still worried? Consult a GP!